Humility: Source of Human Liberation

Readings:  Is 49:1-6; Act 13:22-26; Lk 1:57-66, 80

Once Jesus Christ asked the crowd concerning John the Baptist, “What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” could I ask you to do a thing right there? Just open your inner eyes to scan the realities of life.  What do you see in the world?  Is not our world in the clutches of evil?  Just look at your inner world. What do you see? Look at your families. What do you see there?  Look at your nations. What do you see? When we make a socio-politico-economic scan of our world, we don’t just find a reed shaken by the wind. But, we find a much larger reality and perhaps a cluster of stark realities of life – injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape, oppression, displacement and marginalization of the poor and the weak. What is the source of all this evil?

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the birth of St. John the Baptist. On this great occasion all the three readings are connected with St. John the Baptist. First reading is actually a servant song that the prophet Isaiah prophesized and it fits in well in the life and work of John the Baptist. In fact the Lord had called John before his birth. The Lord had called him by name. More about it we heard in the Gospel reading. “His name is John”, says Elizabeth. Dumbfounded Zachariah also confirms it by writing on the tablet, “His name is John”. The second reading has also a link in an attempt to highlight the character of the John. Here St. Paul, in his kerygmatic preaching, explains the humility of John the Baptist. Thus, the readings of the day highlight the personality of John the Baptist. By pondering on the life of the saint today, we may have an answer to the question raised above.

Reflecting on the life of John the Baptist, we must mark the following three points:

1)      John the Baptist as Pre-cursor of Jesus: After naming of the child as John, Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, gave a prophecy which is known as Canticle of Zachariah. This consists of two hymns. The first hymn speaks of the role of Jesus whereas the second hymn speaks of John’s role as pre-cursor of Jesus.  Mark the line that says, “you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways.” And John precisely did that. He prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He preached in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). Our role is also to do the same, viz., proclaiming a baptism of repentance.

2)      John the Baptist as Humble Servant of God: In the first reading we heard from Is 49:1-6 a servant song, which is actually fulfilled in John the Baptist. John considers himself a servant of the Messiah. He rightly and humbly confesses that he is not the Messiah. He feels unworthy before the Messiah – not to be fit even to untie the thong of His sandals. Here word ‘humble’ is to be noted. John the Baptist is a humble servant of God. His humility is so remarkable that even Jesus praises him. “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist (Mt 11:11)”.  And John served the Lord God in words and deeds with his total commitment and loyalty. He always upheld truth and justice. It was for becoming strong voice for truth and justice that he was martyred.

3)      John the Baptist as a Witness of the Lamb of God: John the Baptist not only bore truth and justice in his heart and mind but also proclaimed and testified when he saw truth of truths, i.e., Jesus Christ. He declared, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). This was his great testimonial. He pointed Jesus as the one filled with the Holy Spirit, as the Lamb of God and as Son of God.

In this three points chiastic highlight of John’s life, the second, which is at the center, viz., humility, is of vital importance for us and that’s the central message today for all of us. Humility is a need of the time. The life of John the Baptist must be challenging us to grow in humility.  But, who cares about being humble and meek? It’s often ridiculous to become humble, isn’t it? Humility is the mother of all virtues.  St. Ignatius of Loyola had understood it well. He was convinced of it. That is why in his Spiritual Exercises, he explained pride and humility as two opposite forces. He considered pride as the root vices of all kinds that finally get manifested in many forms of evil actions, such as, injustice, corruption, exploitation, hatred, hunger, communal violence, conflicts, division, murder, rape and oppression.

I think today pride has become the root problem in every individual. Just observe. When we get wealth, power, prestige, name and fame, honour, don’t we become proud of ourselves? Yes, we do. At least, this has been my experience. We don’t even know how to react when somebody appreciates us. When we are proud of ourselves, we are actually blinded; we become selfish; we don’t see others as part and parcel of our relational being. That’s how our pride leads us to other evils. If we want total and holistic liberation of ourselves and our world, I think, we must liberate ourselves first from our pride. We must crucify our pride at the cross of humility.  St. Ignatius of Loyola has rightly given us humility as a tool to keep a check with our pride.

Now, we should not be confused with word ‘humility’. By humility we never mean ‘submissiveness’. No. Humility is a virtue, a capacity to accept and acknowledge oneself as truly one is in front of God and in front of others and to accept and acknowledge God and others truly for what they are.  I think John the Baptist just did that throughout his life. That’s why he is regarded as the greatest of all that Saints. I think in order to liberate ourselves and our world from all demoniac powers that bind us and oppress us, we must take a lesson of humility. For, humility is the root source of the dynamics of human liberation.

Beware of Luxury

We usually find sign boards with a caption, “Beware of dogs” at the house gates or “Beware of pickpockets” in metro trains, public buses and crowded places. But here I have a strange kind of caution for you –“Beware of luxury”. Why this caution after all?

Luxury, comforts, shortcuts, etc. are very much part of lives.  Who does not want luxurious and comfortable life? Just think of the kinds of luxury and comforts we have in our homes. Our houses are self-contained with toilets, bathrooms, well-furnished rooms with beds, sofas, tables and chairs.  Electricity, water supply, television, refrigerators, and computers- all are at our service. If we lack anything, we just give a call and pay later; and things come to our door.

Think of the luxury and comfort we often look for in our means of transportation. In most cases public city buses could fulfill our needs. But, then we won’t use them. We would prefer private vehicles, cars and motorbikes, no matter how much fuel prices go up. The number of cars and private vehicles running in our roads is growing high so much that we need our roads to be widened year by year. Yet, many times we face traffic jams. These few examples are enough to initiate the process of self-introspection as to how consciously or unconsciously, we long for luxury and comforts. Do we often look back our lives and check whether our life is governed merely by our wants and needs or by our values?

Excuse me. I am not here to criticize anybody. I am not against modernism and development either. I am just pondering our basic human tendency. I remember the feelings and emotions that I had five days back when I had to change my well furnished and well-equipped room in a three storey building to a tiled bungalow. I had difficult times. Several thoughts came to my mind, “Oh! I will have to walk some 50 meters to go to toilets and bathrooms. Hereafter I will miss showers I used to enjoy previously, etc.” Yes. I too enjoy luxury and comforts. That is my basic human tendency. And I suppose this is true with you too. Thanks to science and technologies that human lives have become more luxurious and comfortable now than a few decades ago.

However, in my case at the moment at least, I had a change in my life with the change of little less luxurious and less comfortable room. I have learnt an important lesson from this little change that I had to make. The lesson is that luxury begets laziness, pride, weakness, inertia and all sorts of evil habits. Now, you may agree or disagree with this. But, this is the lesson I have learnt. You might laugh at it. But, I tell you. Previously I used to set alarm to get up in the morning and there would a common bell for rising up. Despite that I used to get only after 5.00 am. A typical case of my laziness!  Now I have put a sign post with a caution, “Beware of Luxury”, not at the door of my room but somewhere at the back of my head, not to remind others but to myself. That’s the reason now I can get up easily at 4.30 am.

So, better beware of luxury! This caution may not apply to you so much. You might be master of yourself. However, you are welcome to look into your personal life whether this fact holds true. Sure, modern means of luxury and comforts might be our need but we must not forget to question where exactly they lead us. You must not be blinded with the unexamined assumptions like, “If s/he can have it, why not I? I can afford so I must have it, etc.” You must learn to bargain with your wants, needs and values. Or else you will be trapped into the snares of luxury and comforts.

Wrestling with the Mystery of the Trinity

Sunday Reflection for the Feast of the Blessed Trinity

Readings:  Dt 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom 8:14-17; Mt 28:16-20

In the Book of Genesis 32:22-32 we are told how Jacob wrestles with God (in the person of an unknown man) whole night until daybreak at the bank of river Jabbok in a place later called Peniel. In the similar way human mind has been wrestling with the understanding of God. Who is God for us? How is he? We question and try to understand and comprehend God. But, we have never been able to understand God completely. God is incomprehensible. He is a mystery. Yet, this mystery is not completely unknown to us. It is by his Grace we have revelation of God. God reveals Himself and we continually respond to this revelation and try to understand God as per our human capability.

The Bible is a collection of books written by human hands but divinely authored and inspired by God Himself. Therefore, it contains the revelation of God. Human beings have wrestled with God in their understanding of God. In the Bible we have the accounts of how Hebrews had their breakthrough in their understanding of God from Polytheistic to Monotheistic. In the Second Testament, we have revelation of God in the very person of Jesus Christ. There is a gradual shift in the understanding of God from Polytheism to Monothesim. We, Christians, believe in Monotheism. But, there too, we have the Trinitarian understanding of God, viz., three Divine Persons in One God. Down the centuries, in the history of the Church, there has been constant ‘wrestling’ with the understating of this Trinitarian God. Presently we believe and hold the Mystery of Blessed Trinity – In One Godhead, there are three Divine persons, viz., The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  How? All of us are not theologians, like Augustine, Athnasius, Tartullian, and all. How do we understand this mystery of the blessed Trinity?

Well, the Church supplies. Today, on the feast of day of the Blessed Trinity, the holy mother Church provides an opportunity to ‘wrestle’ with our understanding of God. It is a good day to reflect on the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.  In the First reading from the book of Deuteronomy we hear how Moses commanded Israelite for obedience to the Lord God. He demanded Israelite to acknowledge that the Lord is their God and there is no other God besides Him.  In the second reading from Rom 8:14-17 we heard St. Paul speaking to the Romans about the life in the Spirit. He explained how, when we live our lives by the Spirit of God, we become children of God. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. In the gospel reading today from Mathew 28:18-20 we hear Jesus giving the disciples His great commission- a commission of making disciples, of baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and of teaching them to obey his commandments.

Thus, the readings of the day present to us a glimpse of the Trinity. In the first reading we have been presented a strict monotheistic notion of God, viz. The Lord is God, there is no other God but Him.  This is the first Divine Person of the Trinity. Of course, in the gospel reading we have had resurrected Jesus before us and giving us the great commission. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity,  is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. We must notice, what Jesus says in his great commission, viz., baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the second reading we have been told of the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity. Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost and we were told how the Spirit of God dwells in us. It is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we become the children of God. So, readings of the day unfold for us the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, which is actually based on God’s revelation who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that there are three Divine Persons in One Godhead.

Now, if we continue wrestling a bit more with the mystery of the Trinity, then perhaps we will get a blessing of a message for our practical lives. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches two important points. First, Trinity in Unity, i.e. Three in One; that there is Distinction among the three Divine Persons. God the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit; The Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit. So also Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Every Divine Person is unique. Second, Unity in Trinity, i.e., Oneness in Trinity; that is, there is distinction among the three Divine Persons, yet, they are one; they are united; there is perfect unity among them. How is this oneness of the Trinitarian God unfolded? One of the ways this is explained is by arguing the mutual indwelling of the Divine Persons. This means that the divine persons are present to each other on the ground of common nature, relations, and origin. That is to say that they have mutual inhabitation and participation in all perfections. This God is the God of relationship.

Huh! It is very hard to understand, isn’t it? Night and day we might wrestle with the understanding of the Trinity, but I think  at the end, we surrender and say that the Trinitarian mystery consists in the essential incomprehensibility of God. By reason we cannot fathom this mystery but by leap of our faith we can ascend and transcend to this mystery and share in this divine life by abiding in the message it gives us today. The feast of the Blessed Trinity calls forth to take home an important message, viz., the message of unity. The message that is unfolded for us today is that when we live in unity and with integrity within oneself, in our families, in our communities, in our countries and in our world at large, we actually share in the divine life; we share in the life of the Trinitarian God. Union of hearts and minds is the call of the time. Unity in diversity, hope amidst hopelessness, joy and peace amidst violence and strife is what the feast of the Blessed Trinity challenges us to strive for.

In our world broken with greed and pride, how can we all become children of God? How can we establish a just and humane society in the world? I think we need not only the blessing but also the lesson from the blessed Trinity. The lesson that we must learn from the Trinitarian God is the lesson of mutual indwelling, lesson of inhabitation and the lesson of relationality. This is what we must wrestle with instead of wrestling with the understanding of Trinitarian God.