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Walk humbly with your God

First slide

In 1987, a priest friend and I journeyed to Austria, and we stopped in Vienna. We visited the Franciscan Kirche, whose crypt housed the burial vaults of the Hapsburg rulers of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, such as Marie Teresa and Franz Joseph. The large bronze vaults were rather macabre, decorated with the images of the rulers as well as with mourning angels, skulls and skeletons. Frankly, the place was eerie. I did learn an interesting ritual: After the funeral Mass of the emperor concluded, says Franz Joseph, the funeral cortege would leave St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and slowly process to the Franciscan Kirche with great pomp and ceremony. The archduke would then knock on the door. A little window would open, and the superior would ask, “Who is there?” The archduke would respond, “Franz Joseph, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, King of Austria and King of Hungary.” And the superior would reply, “We do not know him,” and shut the door. The archduke would knock again and hear, “Who is there?”

 

“Franz Joseph, his Catholic imperial majesty and elector of the Pope.”

 

“We do not know the man.”

 

A third time, the archduke would knock. “Who is there?”

 

“Franz Joseph, a poor wretched sinner who seeks a place to lay his bones.” Then the door would open, and the body would be laid to rest in the crypt.

 

The lesson is simple: No matter who we are, we all die, leave behind everything of this world, and face judgment.  Therefore, better to live always as the humble servant of the Lord now and be recognized as such on judgment day.

 

The Old Testament Book of Sirach teaches, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than the giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are and you will find favor with God.” The virtue of humility is the key to holiness. St. Bernard of Clarivaux said, “Humility is the mother of salvation.” Of course, Christ is the model of humility: He came to do his Father’s will. He came to serve not be served. St. Paul wrote, “He emptied himself taking the form of a slave; he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross.”

 

Poor victims of original sin, suffering from concupiscence, we can easily succumb to pride. Like those in the gospel who vied for the places of honor, we can easily slip into vying for position, networking for gain, maneuvering to succeed, and hoping to make the Forbes Fortune 500 and the A-list of invitations. We can become over-confident, over-impressed with ourselves. Ours can be a kingdom of here and now.  We can become spiritually smug, and even presumptuous of God’s mercy. 

 

Instead, we must remind ourselves daily, “I am the humble servant of the Lord, to whom I owe everything.” A humble person begins the day with prayer and prays throughout the day, with acts of praise, gratitude and petition. He takes time to worship the Lord at Sunday Mass. In light of this Gospel passage, he is mindful of those who are poor, alone or disabled, not only by giving to good charities or directly to those in need, but also by opening his home to care for the elderly relative or to welcome the neighbor who is alone for dinner, especially during the holidays. He counts all blessings, including talents, as gifts from the Lord to be used wisely for the glory of God and the good of others. He does not compare himself to others, thinking, “I am better than that person,” but strives to be Christ-like and emulate the saints. Finally, the humble person regularly seeks forgiveness in the sacrament of penance, imploring the Lord’s mercy.

 

The Lord said through the Prophet Micah: “You have been told, O man, which is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” If Our Lord finds us the humble servant, then he will welcome us to our place at the heavenly banquet.

 

Fr. Saunders, pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls, is  episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019