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Gentleness and humility transform outrage into blessing

· Cardinal Christoph Schönborn's homily ·

The Gospel scene today, a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, begins with reciprocal observations. The host and his friends are watching Jesus. “They were focusing on him”, as Adolf Schlatter translates it. They were critically scrutinizing him. And they found a pretext to confirm their criticism. Jesus, in fact, heals a man with dropsy (our Sunday Reading omits this healing) and he did so on the Sabbath!

And Jesus was observing the guests. He notes their conduct during the meal, their efforts to get the best places at table. The One who was being critically examined in turn observes their puerile behaviour. He sets before them – and also before us who are listening to the Gospel – a mirror in the form of a parable.

Parables, as always, deal with experiences of daily life. To take the least important seat is not primarily a question of humility but rather of wisdom. It is better to be asked to move forward than to have to shamefully move back.

But this wisdom is not a cunning ploy to obtain the place of honour. True humility is always something realistic. Mozart knew, and at times said, that he was among the best. It was true. His humility lay in the fact that he appreciated his own genius but always saw it as a gift of God and hence considered it a duty. I do not need to explain the analogy with our venerable maestro.

Humility is something quite plain. It has to do with truthfulness and gratitude. Humility is above all the grateful, modest and joyful perception of our being as creatures.

Jesus said to St Catherine of Siena: “Recognize who you are and who I am and you will be happy: I am the One who is, you are the one who is not”.

And the Apostle says: “Whatever you posses you have received”. Humility is the fundamental attitude of a created being! To understand it and to live it more deeply the Creator-Logos took flesh, became a servant, he himself became a creature to show us, from the core of our being as creatures, what a creature's attitude must be. He asks us to learn from him who is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29).

Jesus, the son of Sirach, had already recommended meekness and humility “The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself” (Sir 3:18, First Reading.

Hence our gaze is fixed on Christ. He is the One who has chosen the lowliest place, he who was in the form of God (Phil 2:6). I remember the short parable on the lowliest place at another meal which Jesus shared with his disciples. According to St Luke, after Jesus had instituted the Eucharist a discussion arose among the Apostles as to which of them should be regarded as the greatest (cf. Lk 22:24-30): a clerical squabble for predominance in the Upper Room, right after the institution of the priesthood of the New Covenant!

Yes, Lord, see how we fight for the place of honour, openly or deceitfully. And you remind us: “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). We should constantly feel ashamed in recognizing that we still have much to learn from you. Lord, you yourself comfort us.

Yes, in the Upper Rome, despite the imminent betrayal, the Lord made his Apostles the great promise: “you are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed a Kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you” (Lk 22:28 ff.). What an act of faith on the Lord's part! He entrusted the Kingdom of his Father to us.

In order that the greatness of our vocation might not make us proud he placed us, and especially the first Apostles, in the last place. At least St Paul thinks so: “I think that God has exhibited us Apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honour, but we in disrepute.... When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world” (1 Cor 4:9-13).

Holy Father! May these words of the Apostle be of comfort to you when the insults come from the faithful themselves, from Christians themselves and you are shown the “red card”. Humility transforms the outrage into a blessing. Thank you, Your Holiness, for having shown us the attitude of Jesus who is gentle and lowly in heart.

Is there not something marvellous in the Christian faith, in the Christian experience? Joy for the fact that the criteria of the Kingdom of Heaven are so different. Who is truly great in the Kingdom of Heaven? How full of joy we are, already here on earth, to perceive in people who live according to Jesus' Heart those who are the great in the Kingdom of Heaven!

And the Holy Father does not lack this joy in his many Meetings with people who are great according to the criteria of the “ecclesia”, the community of the “first born whose names are written in Heaven” even if for the world they are unimportant.

The Lord himself now invites us to his table. He is not afraid to invite people who are poor, maimed, lame and blind. He invites us, humble sinners with all our shortcomings and faults, and is in our midst as one who serves. Blessed are they who are invited to the banquet of the Lamb!




St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 22, 2019