22nd Sunday In Ordinary Time 2013

September 3, 2013 Father De Celles Homily

September 1, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church,
Springfield, Va.

Today’s readings clearly center on the theme of humility.
But I think there’s something more here that we can look at:
something the Lord is telling us
about the role of humility in what we’ve come here today to do:
that humility is at the heart of the proper worship of God,
especially when we celebrate the sacred mysteries of the Eucharist.

The book of Genesis tells us that it was Adam’s sin of pride
that cost all mankind eternal life with God.
Adam and Eve believed the servant’s lie
that if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
then they would be like God.
This is the epitome of pride,
and it is the antithesis of worship–they said in effect:
“I will not worship God, I will worship myself.”

What a radically different picture we find in Christ
–whom St. Paul calls the “new Adam.”
In his letter to the Philippians St. Paul writes:
“though he was in the form of God,
Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at,
rather … he humbled himself ….even unto death, death on a cross.”

It is the humility of Jesus to worship the Father
that defeats the effects of Adam’s pride,
and brings about our salvation.
And it is the Cross which is the ultimate act of his humility.
And because of the Cross, Philippians goes on to say:
“Therefore God has highly exalted him
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

In today’s first reading from the book of Sirach,
God the Father tells his only begotten Son, Jesus:
“My son, conduct your affairs with humility.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus passes this instruction on to us:
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor.
Rather, …take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’”

Jesus lived out his father’s (instruction and his own) perfectly, so that by taking
“the lowest place”
–humbly accepting death on the Cross
–his Father came to him and said
“My friend, move up to a higher position”,
raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in glory.

In the Mass we come to worship God
but we do it in the context of the Eucharistic sacrifice.
We call it a sacrifice because in it we truly come face to face
with the sacrifice of the Cross.
And it’s through this mystery of Christ’s own humility in the Cross,
that we can join him in his heavenly glorify.

So, essential to our participation in this mystery of worship,
the Eucharist, the Mass
essential to our being united with Christ crucified and glorified,
is the absolute necessity, on our part,
of an overwhelming sense of personal humility.

The readings today reflect this very eloquently.
The Gospel begins by saying:
“On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine” or “to eat a meal.”
But at that meal, Jesus points to another very special type of meal,
as he tells the parable of the wedding feast,
which, in the language of Scripture, is nothing less than heaven itself:
the wedding banquet of Christ and his bride the Church.

Today is the Sabbath, and today we also come to a meal.
But this meal is also no ordinary meal,
because as we find ourselves in the presence
of the mystery of the humility of Christ on the Cross,
we also find ourselves somehow mystically present
at glorious wedding banquet of heaven.
And Jesus reminds us that to worthily enter into this banquet
we must “not sit in the place of honor…but in the lowest place”
–we must enter into this banquet in humility.

And so, the Mass is full of prayers and signs
calling us to and expressing humility.
Let’s take a moment to consider some.

We begin the Mass with the penitential rite, recalling humbly that we are sinners.
One reason I almost always use the Confiteor, the “I confess”,
is because if we say it sincerely we’re making a great act of humility:
humility before God and before our neighbor,
“I confess to almighty God,
and to you my brothers and sisters
that I have greatly sinned…”
And then the beautiful and radically humbling triple “through my fault.”

And after the prayer of penance, we go the Gloria, as if to say humbly,
while we are humble sinners, you are the Lord God and heaven king,
and so we first beat our breasts,
but then “We praise you,…bless you,…adore you,…glorify you,
[and] give you thanks …”
“You alone are the Holy one”—not us.

Then we go into the Liturgy of the Word, and again we express our humility
–this time not in what we say,
but by not saying anything, and instead humbly listening,
listening to God speaking to us through the Scriptures
and in the Homily.
The first reading from the book of Sirach today anticipates this liturgical humility:
“conduct your affairs with humility,…
an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.”

The Mass proceeds and we come to the offertory,
as we offer our the humble gifts of bread and wine,
which symbolize the gifts of ourselves.
Just simple bread and wine, symbolic of the fact that we know
nothing we have and nothing about us
is truly worthy to offer the Lord.
And so we ask him to change them into the only worthy gift:
Jesus himself, given on the Cross.
And the priest prays in a low voice that God
“be pleased with the sacrifice we offer” him
“with humble and contrite hearts”.

Then we come to the Eucharistic Prayer, the heart of the Mass.
Today’s second reading is from the letter to the Hebrews
–the epistle that so beautifully explains the mystery that Jesus
is both the priest and victim of the sacrifice.
In this context, we read:
“you have approached Mount Zion…the heavenly Jerusalem,
and countless angels in festal gathering,
and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven…”
As we begin this Prayer
in which we are truly drawing nearer and nearer every moment
to the coming of heaven to earth in the Eucharist,
we begin by joining the angels and the saints assembled with us
as they sing their song of praise:
“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”

But the letter to the Hebrews most especially points out
that in this heavenly Jerusalem we:
“have approached… Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant.”
As we now reach the most holy part of the Mass we hear the words:
“this is my body….this is the chalice of my blood,
the blood of the new…covenant.”
And we finally are present with all of glorious heaven,
at the foot of the bloody cross of Christ’s humility.

All throughout the Mass we show external signs of our internal desire
to become humble before the Lord and with one another.
We bow our heads at the name of Jesus,
we bow to the altar as a symbol of Christ,
we strike our breasts three times in the Confiteor.
But now as we reach the summit of the Divine Liturgy,
we show our greatest outward sign of humility.
In St. John’s book of Revelation as he describes
his vision of the entrance of Christ into the heavenly liturgy,
he tells us that the angels and saints
“fell down and worshipped” “before the Lamb, who was slain.”
As Christ personally and physically enters into our Liturgy,
present under the appearance of the Eucharistic bread and wine,
we join the angels and saints and fall to our knees.
And we kneel again a few moments later before the Lamb of God,
saying in all humility:
“Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.”

Finally, after preparing ourselves to approach this heavenly wedding banquet
with truly humble hearts,
Christ himself, the host of the banquet approaches and says:
“my friend, move up to a higher position..”
And then we draw nearest to Christ, who takes us to the highest place,
as we receive our Lord in Holy Communion.

It’s Christ’s humility that allowed him to come to us in the form of a man
and to die on the Cross,
and it’s Christ’s humility that conquers Adam’s pride.
It’s Christ’s humility that allows him to come to us
under the form of simple bread and wine,
and it’s Christ’s humility that brings us into his glory.
But its only to the extent that we prepare ourselves
and open our hearts to share in his humility
that we can truly enter into the mystery of the gift
of his Cross and his glory.

My brothers and sisters, taking the words of today’s Scriptures:
let us conduct our liturgy with humility.
Having listened with an attentive ear
now approach…the heavenly Jerusalem, and Jesus,
the mediator of a new covenant.
But do not seek honor at this the heavenly wedding feast,
instead go and sit in the lowest, most humble place,
so that when the Lord approaches you he will say,
“My friend, move up to a higher position.”
For he “who humbles himself will be exalted.”