Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Roadblocks to Charity

A soul cannot have lofty charity without profound humility
The Three Stages of the Interior Life by Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P

The Scripture passages I meditated upon this week had Jesus preaching in the temple.  In general, He spoke with humility, as He taught His poor, confused people.  The above quote notes a key relationship between charity and humility:  To love your neighbor greatly, you must be willing to love yourself less, and to give of yourself more.  That’s what Jesus was doing in the temple.
I’ve been contemplating and praying on humility in recent months.  I think God has been asking me to focus on the varied ways I have failed in this virtue, and that a result of my failings is that I don’t love my neighbor as I should, as he commanded.  You’d think that when Jesus summarized all the commandments down to just two simple ones, love God and neighbor, we’d find it easy to obey: We could just will to love. 
If only it were that simple.
Charity, in love of our neighbor, can only rise to a great level when humility, in a reduced love of ourselves, also rises to a great level.  When Jesus speaks of the rabbis and teachers in the temple, He tells the people to do what the religious leaders say, but not what they do, for these leaders of the temple do not practice humility --- AND (although He doesn’t say it), therefore they do not love you as they should.
The people understood what Jesus was saying to them, and the rabbis did too, and so they were angry.  “They preach but they do not practice (Mt 23:2), Jesus said.  And in my heart He showed me how often I do the same.
Humility enables true love; we need to put on the heart of Jesus to achieve it.  I pray the Litany of Humility at night and have perceived it as a prayer asking for abasements, that I might be belittled.  But I think these Scripture passages I’ve been reading tell me that I am not praying it to be belittled, but rather to accept the fact that I AM little --- little, not littler or littlest.  God loves each and every one of us the same way; no one is worth more; no one is worth less, and none is worthless.  In His eyes, I am not bigger, I am not littler ---- it is only in my eyes that I am so.
Pride is often said to be the root cause of all sins.  In pride I often think I am better than others.  In pride they irritate me and do things I find hard to forgive.  The Our Father asks God to forgive us as we forgive.  These things are deeply related:  Forgivenessè humility è charity è Love of God and neighbor.
In Luke 4:14-30, we see where some people could not accept Jesus as a preacher.  They asked Him for miracles.  They were His neighbors who saw Him grow up in Nazareth as a carpenter, and they couldn’t see Him in any other way.  They wanted something concrete, a miracle, they could see before they believed Him sent from God.  They had to see with their eyes.  But the reality was, that they needed to close their eyes, so they could see with their heart.  In another Scripture passage, Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple in Jerusalem, and the temple leaders couldn’t understand why either.  They too saw only an earthly man.  They could not see His zeal for the temple as a virtue, as an expression of His love for His Father.  Their only love was of themselves, their positions, and their possessions --- not getting beyond love of themselves, they really didn’t understand love of God and neighbor.
I pray for humility, to see with my heart my proper position in this world, and in the next.  Like Jesus did to the moneychangers, I need to flog myself to change my ways.  I need to close my eyes in prayer and see things as they really are.  I need to not see others as needing my forgiveness, but rather see me, as not taking deep offense, not being so easily irritated, not being angry --- usually at things of no real great importance.  I need to see what God sees in my neighbor, and to love them as He does.  It starts with me loving myself less, and then, instead of really being less, I will be able to be all He created me to be --- in His image.  This is all possible, if I can humbly change the focus of my attention from myself.
Much of getting there, to the holiness we were all created to attain, starts with humility.  It is a good thing to pray for.
The roadblocks to charity, love of God and neighbor, are many, and the biggest one is Pride.  But we can tear down the roadblock of Pride with humility.
I continue to press on in my life.  He continues to teach me in Scripture and in other ways.  I think I have learned a lot.  I have no idea how much more remains, but I shall not worry.  St. Thomas Aquinas says that as we grow in holiness throughout our lives, we accelerate in that growth.  It’s kind of like a falling rock acted upon by gravity:  as it nears the ground it is going at its fastest speed just before impact.  Our growth in holiness will increase like that until that day we meet God face to face. 
And it will be breathtaking.
Charity is an infused theological virtue, just waiting for us to use it.  The only roadblock to our using it effectively and expansively is ourselves, our love of ourselves.  Humility, real efforts at humility, often need a visible effort so that we can believe that it is achievable --- kind of like the rabbis had to see to believe.  A good, visible place to start being humble, is on our knees.
One of the most important decisions you can make
in your life, is to decide to pray daily.
--- Ralph Martin

1 comment:

  1. Tom, this great. Really, really good. As I have been reading your blog over the past year or so, I can see from afar how much God is working on you and your spiritual changes. I think I posted something a few weeks ago about how Father at Mass just before Lent said the purpose of Lent is to increase our charity. And I wasn't really clear that he didn't mean charity as in "acts of donations" but rather as an increase in our love of God and our neighbor - change in us to have more compassion and tenderness toward our neighbor, a felt inclination that may express itself in a variety of ways, true love.

    And now God has enlightened you to see the connection between humility and charity! I often think that the Gnostics were able to make headway because of sometimes it is hard to get across God's ways via human language. We use words, but they can sometimes obscure and hide a meaning instead of clarifying it. We use "charity" and people might automatically think donating to a good cause. Or we use "humility" and we think "humiliation." In his own humility, when people tried to praise St. Francis, he would say, I am what I am in God's judgement: no more, and no less. People's opinion, even his own estimation of himself, did not matter. Only what God saw and judged was true and trustworthy. So Francis kept trying, and did not judge even himself.

    When it comes to humility, I sometimes think of a field of wildflowers. Taken as a whole, the field is beautiful because of them. Taken individually, which one is more beautiful or more of a miracle than the next? You or I may prefer one to another, and so we pick the one we prefer, but oh look, there is a particularly beautiful daisy , but then look over there, there is a really phenomenal buttercup! But then look there,....and so on. And so all the flowers, each one, are particularly beautiful, if we have eyes to see. And so, is it not true of people? And what mother doesn't love each of her children for who they are individually? What Father in heaven doesn't do the same, even more, since He sees us as He created us?

    What parent enjoys hearing a child say, "I am better than my brother (sister)."? Why would God want us saying that?

    It's a matter of seeing. And that is why I LOVE the story of the blind Bartimaeus, who, when Jesus asks, what do you want of Me, he says, "Lord, I want to see." Yes Lord, me too, I want to see.

    God bless, Tom. Thanks for sharing your spiritual journey with us. ~ Fran