Note: Fr. Ed’s homily for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time is now available online! Click here to listen.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important….”
This invitation to us by St. Paul serves as an introduction to his great Christological hymn about the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11). It reminds us that “His state was divine,” yet then describes how He humbled Himself ultimately to serve us. St. Paul’s admonition reminds us that the attitude of our hearts must be more and more like that of the Sacred Heart of the Lord Jesus Himself.
This is not easy for us, to put it mildly. We are born fallen and this is sometimes demonstrated even in babies when their first word spoken to the waiting world is “MINE!” The result of the Fall in us is that our pride is always in the ascendency. The most common battle in our spiritual lives is the struggle to put the Lord Jesus first instead of our pride. But as we see Who the Lord Jesus is, especially as St. Paul presents Him here—that He Who, as one of the three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity, totally deserved, without exception, the adulation of every creature in the Universe, yet chose instead to humble Himself for our sake—we can see how far we have to go to be imitators of Him.
This is, of course, absolutely impossible for us on our own power. Using our power alone, there is only one option: our pride will rule. Thankfully we are never on our own unless we choose to be. Rather, the power of God the Holy Spirit, given to us at Baptism and strengthened in us in our Confirmation, is always available that we may choose instead to live for Him and not just for ourselves.
Serving others as Jesus
This is never more obvious than when we choose to serve others and put them first. As we plead with the Holy Spirit for the grace to do so, we are empowered to serve, to truly put the other first; to love them with His love and to serve them as if we were serving Him Himself, which, in point of fact, is exactly what we are doing.
Watching folks serve at Alpha, especially the helpers, and observing, in particular, the faces of those at table with them as the helpers serve them has been wonderful to see. The guests experience, even if just in a small way, the love and care from another person that will hopefully help them to open themselves to the love and care of the Person Who matters the most. This requires a little dying to self—our pride always wants us to be the ones being served. With grace, though, we can do that dying to self and actually experience the joy given by the Spirit when we serve as the Lord Jesus intends.
Serving by listening
Another aspect of dying to ourselves, that applies in particular to Alpha, but also to the rest of our lives, is that dying to self that needs to happen to simply be present to and love the other person and give them the space and time to share their story, their life, with us—to simply receive that and treasure that, without comment or the need to one-up it or correct it. This can definitely require a dying to self, but if we yield there to the Holy Spirit, the grace is always available. The other person then experiences being listened to, and their words being honored. This does not mean we necessarily agree, but it is crucial that we listen and listen well.
I wonder how many of our absent kids, now adults, would still be walking with us if we had listened better and corrected less. How easy it is, albeit inadvertently, to create the impression that our love is conditional. How tragically easy it also is for folks to assume that the way they experienced love from us is also the way that the Lord Jesus loves them—conditionally or based on performance, etc., etc. I’m certainly aware of my own limitations in this, but I take hope in the fact that there is no relationship that is so broken that it is beyond His capacity to restore—the King’s right arm is never too short to save! It’s never too late to repent and to recommit to love, and the King adds His own great might to our feeble attempts, thank God! — Fr. Ed