Sunday, September 1, 2013

Really Great

The chalice I used for Mass today belonged to my grandmother's cousin, Fr. Raymond Bedard, who died in 2007.  While he was a student at Montréal's Grand Séminaire, that chalice was consecrated by Cardinal Léger.

   Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time    
Paul-Émile Léger became the Archbishop of Montréal in 1950,
and was made a Cardinal of the Catholic Church in 1953.
He was one of the most powerful men in Canada
and a distinguished figure at the Second Vatican Council.
Rather suddenly, on April 20, 1968, he resigned his office,
leaving behind his red robes as a Cardinal,
the miter he wore and the crosier he carried as an Archbishop—
basically disappearing from public life.
A few years later, a Canadian journalist tracked him down
and went to interview him:
in Africa, living in a trailer, 
among lepers and the disabled
on the outskirts of a small village in Cameroon.
The journalist’s main question: “Why?”
Cardinal Léger answered:
            It will be the great scandal of the history of our century
            that 600 million people are eating well and living luxuriously
            and three billion people starve,
            and every year millions of children are dying of hunger.
            I am too old to change all that.
            The only thing I can do which makes sense is to be present.
            I must simply be in the midst of them.
            So, just tell people in Canada that you met an old priest.
            I am a priest who is happy to be old and still a priest
            and among those who suffer.
            I am happy to be here and to take them into my heart
The Cardinal died in 1991 at the age of 87.

Genuine humility is about knowing who you are and who you aren’t:
acknowledging, yes, your faults and weaknesses,
but also recognizing your true gifts and strengths.
(We don’t do anybody any favors
when we attempt to hide our abilities…
and certainly fail to show proper gratitude to the One who gave them.)

But while humility is a matter of recognizing who I really am,
it is also a matter of recognizing who God really is.
On the most basic level,
it means accepting the fact that I am not God—
that I am not the real center of things,
not the one who gets to call all the shots.
But it also means being able to distinguish
just how God operates:
the Creator of all coming down from the heights of heaven
to share our life here on earth;
the mighty Lord who is undying,
willingly descending to the cold, dark depths of the grave.
The humble Christian believes that his God—
who took human flesh in Jesus—
was not afraid to get his hands dirty;
not afraid to hang around with sinners, the sick, and the poor;
not afraid to take the last place.
This is not a god who dwells in fire and stormcloud
to keep his people at a fearful distance;
instead, our God has made himself as approachable
as a baby lying in a manger; 
as a scrap of bread and a sip of wine
set out on the table for guests.
We Christians believe that God humbles himself, time and again—
bending low to draw us close and lift us higher.

And we who call ourselves Christians are to do likewise.

In the days of Jesus, poor, backwater Galilee
was clearly full of very important people—
or, at least, folks who thought themselves to be pretty special.
Things aren’t so different here in twenty-first century Malone.
Whatever our social standing might be;
regardless of our résumé, our bank account, or political connections—
we all have those moments when we crave to be noticed,
when we long to show others how it’s done,
or when we expect an exception be made to the rule just for us.

How very different all that is from the way of Christ!

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind—Jesus tells us;
blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.

As we see in the life of Cardinal Léger,
the secret to real greatness
is not in proving that you’re somebody;
rather, it’s in acknowledging that all of those around you—
rich or poor, weak or strong, friend or foe—
are in fact somebody:
they’re somebody who matters to you
because they’re somebody who matters even more to God.
The humble way of Jesus
is being present to our least brothers and sisters
and taking them into our hearts;
about bending low to draw them close
and so lift them higher.

We do not heed Christ’s command and take the last place
because we’re quietly hoping he’ll move us up later on.
Actually, being in the lowest place is already to be exalted,
because it’s precisely there 
that we find ourselves in the place of honor, 
right next to Jesus:
it’s among the humble and the lowly
that God has chosen to dwell.

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