Looking Up and Looking Down

Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

The readings today are all about humility. There is so much to say about humility and its importance. At the risk of oversimplifying reality, I would dare to say that all the world’s problems come down to a lack of humility, or pride. A proud man is going to have lots of problems and difficulties in his life, and the source of those difficulties and sufferings is none other than himself, his own prideful character. The proud are their own worst enemy. C. S. Lewis said: “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.” 

Proud people rarely look up to others, except perhaps to those who think as they do. And the Scriptures say very clearly that the Lord looks upon the proud from a distance. The great Hasidic rabbi, the Baal Shem Tov said that “Pride is more serious than all sin. For to all sinning applies God’s word about Himself: “Who dwells in the midst of their uncleanness.” But of the proud man God says, as our sages teach, “I and he cannot dwell together in the world.” 

What is interesting about the word humility is that it comes from the Latin word humus, which means dirt or soil. But the word “human” also comes from the same root word. To be human is to be from the ground. This of course recalls the second story of creation where we read that God formed man from the mud of the earth, from the ground, from the soil. And of course, we return to the soil eventually. 

What this suggests is that the more humble we become, the more human we become. But the more proud we become, the more ridiculous we become, for we are trying to become more than human, and of course we end up being less than human, because we have created nothing but a facade. 

There’s an old expression: a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. That’s why sophomores are dangerous. They have one year of university under their belt, they have a bit of knowledge, but they don’t have enough learning to have realized how little they know and how much more there is to know. And so they tend to speak with great confidence, and they pronounce on things that they know almost nothing about. The only thing to do is wait patiently–hopefully, after a few more years, they will realize that reality is much more complex than originally thought and they will begin to speak with much less confidence and self-assurance. Some people get to that point, but many people do not, unfortunately. 

One of the great physicists of the 20th century, Richard Feynman, said that science is an ever expanding frontier of ignorance. The more we discover, the more we realize how much more there is to know about the universe. Every new scientific discovery is accompanied by a myriad of new questions that we cannot answer. As we answer them in time, as a result of new discoveries, even more questions arise. Our ignorance expands exponentially with every new discovery. And that’s why very experienced scientists have much greater humility than their students; they have more experience in being wrong.

The glory of man is not intelligence. Rather, intelligence is the glory of the angels. Your guardian angel is inconceivably more brilliant than the most brilliant human being. Angels are not hampered by matter, sense perception, time and geography. An angel is an immaterial entity, and so they are far superior intellectually than we are. Even the most brilliant human being is terribly slow and rather dumb compared to an ordinary angel. The glory of the angels is intelligence. Man’s glory, on the other hand, is humility. We can never outdo an angel in terms of knowledge or intellectual brilliance, but we can certainly outdo them in humility, if we are willing. We can recognize our littleness and embrace it. Mary is higher than the angels, for she is Queen of Angels, but she was not intellectually superior to them; rather, she had greater humility. In her magnificat, she said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, … for he has looked upon the nothingness of his handmaiden.” She saw her nothingness only because she had a profound knowledge of God. When you are close to something large, you see your own littleness in relation to it. Mary was closest to God, and so she had a deeper sense of her nothingness. And so she was pre-eminently human.

However, there is another word that is also derived from humus, and that word is “humour”. The ability to laugh. A person who is truly humble is able to laugh at themselves. A humble person does not take himself too seriously. They take themselves lightly. And so the more humble a person is, the greater will be their sense of humour and they will be able to laugh more. This is the problem with religious movies. They tend to depict saints as overly serious, never laughing. Jesus movies are the worst. He sometimes speaks with a slight British accent, and he rarely smiles or laughs. I believe this depiction is rooted in a lack of understanding of what holiness is and how holiness is related to humility, and how humility is related to humour. 

Taking yourself lightly, being able to laugh at yourself, in other words, humour, is the key to conflict resolution. Marriages fall apart as a result of unresolved conflict, and behind that collapse is always a couple who cannot laugh at themselves, who take themselves too seriously, who are oversensitive and proud. If a person has a difficult time admitting they are wrong, there’s little chance they can be married for very long.  

And this is the case with all human relationships. Just as a proud person is his own worst enemy, creating the conditions for endless problems and difficulties, the more you grow in humility, the more peaceful your life becomes. The problem is that pride blinds the mind, and so proud people do not notice their lack of humility. They’re not embarrassed about their lack of humility. This is especially the case if they are religious, because it is easy to hide our vices behind a cloak of religious orthodoxy. And so the only hope is to pray that God will enlighten our minds. To pray for humility. At the back of the church we printed out a powerful prayer, which is the Litany of Humility. Feel free to take one. This is how we overcome that blindness, namely, by assuming we don’t see accurately, and so we ask God to take over and enlighten us gradually, so as to become the persons He intends us to be.

Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved…

From the desire of being extolled …

From the desire of being honored …

From the desire of being praised …

From the desire of being preferred to others…

From the desire of being consulted …

From the desire of being approved …

From the fear of being humiliated …

From the fear of being despised…

From the fear of suffering rebukes …

From the fear of being calumniated …

From the fear of being forgotten …

From the fear of being ridiculed …

From the fear of being wronged …

From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I …

That, in the opinion of the world,

others may increase and I may decrease …

That others may be chosen and I set aside …

That others may be praised and I unnoticed …

That others may be preferred to me in everything…

That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

I do not know where you come from

Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon D. McManaman

What is interesting about this gospel reading (Lk 13, 22-30) is that Jesus does not answer the person’s question: Lord, will only a few be saved? He simply said to him: “Strive to enter through the narrow door”. By refusing to answer the question, Jesus clearly implies that it’s the wrong question. Focus instead on entering through the narrow door.

The narrow door of course is Christ. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The way to perdition, he said, is wide and broad and many take it. And this is very interesting terminology, because today, in our culture, “narrow” is not a good word, while “broad and open” are regarded as good. And of course, Jesus is not referring to narrow mindedness, nor is he saying that open mindedness is a bad thing. Open mindedness is a virtue and closed mindedness is a vice. What he said is that the way to eternal life is through a narrow door, and so it is a way that has a definite trajectory. However, a way that is wide and broad is open to many different directions, even contradictory paths. That’s a sure way of getting lost. If you want to know the way to Florida and someone tells you the highways are open, there are many paths, take whatever way you feel like, the person will likely not make it to Florida–he might end up in Texas or Nova Scotia. A narrow way is a determinate way; good directions will include what highway to take and what exits to avoid.  

But postmodern culture today frowns on anything that suggests that there really is a right way, a definite way to choose the good, and a definite course of action that will lead to our own destruction. The world says the way is broad and open, and you can take whatever way you choose, because they are all right ways. There was even a Supreme Court Case in the U.S, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, which said that one has the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. That, of course, is pure nihilism (that philosophical school of thought which holds that reality, human existence, etc., has no intrinsic meaning, only the meaning we give it). It is a ruling that completely undermines the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, insofar as they were written within the framework of a definite philosophical anthropology. If anyone thinks about it long enough, those lines really amount to anarchy. 

But Christ says very clearly, strive to enter the narrow door. Many will try but will not be able to do so; for they’d rather do what they want to do, not what God wants. 

The other point I’d like to focus on is the following: “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets’. But the Lord will say, “I do not know where you come from”. 

“Where you come from” is your origin, or your home. In Hebrew, the word for ‘family’ (be’tab) is ‘My father’s house’. In other words, Jesus will look at them and say: I don’t know where your home is; it is clearly not here with me. Your home is somewhere else. Your heart is somewhere else. But what is particularly noteworthy is that in the parallel gospel in Matthew it says: “Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ And the Lord will reply: I never knew you. In other words, you can be religious, come to Church regularly, teach in the name of Jesus, work miracles in his name, and still he may not know where you come from. In Hebrew, knowledge means union, it means experience. ”I never knew you” means I have never experienced you, never experienced intimate union with you. In the book of Revelation, Christ says: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” For the Jews, to dine with a person is to enter into communion with that person; for those at table share in the same food that is before them, which is a source of life, and so they share a common life. Jesus says he will enter if you open the door, referring of course to the door of the heart. But Jesus is the light who has entered into the darkness, and the light chases the darkness, not the other way around. It’s one thing to have Jesus in the head, but it is quite another thing to allow the light to enter into the heart, because the light chases the darkness, and some people are comfortable in the dark. I’m referring particularly to the darkness of anger, envy, pride, bitterness, hypercriticism, etc, and these vices, for many religious people, are like an old leather coat that is very comfortable to wear and so they won’t part with it. And you have to wonder how it is that such people don’t see the irony, the contradiction, the hypocrisy. There are all sorts of possible explanations for this, but one in particular has always stood out to me over the years: many of them are very conservative, they are “orthodox”. For them, Catholicism is about “being right”, that is, “having the right answers”. It’s all in the head. And so they can hide behind the cloak of their orthodoxy, which allows them to feel righteous, which is why they are very often self-righteous, very dogmatic; religious know it alls. 

Catholicism is first and foremost the good news of salvation, that the light has come into the world, and we can invite him into the depths of our own hearts if we are tired of the darkness, and he will bring light and life to our lives. And then we will know God in a way that no one else does, a knowledge that arises from that unique relationship that He offers us, if we open ourselves to him and allow him to drive out our darkness so as to breathe fresh air and live in light.

Contemplatives in Action

Homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Deacon Doug McManaman

This gospel reading on Martha and Mary has often been misinterpreted over the centuries and has given rise to a kind of dualism, a false dichotomy between the active life on the one hand, and the contemplative life on the other (Martha representing the active life, Mary the contemplative life), as if the two are mutually exclusive. But of course, the two are not mutually exclusive. Even someone like St. Theresa of Avila, who founded 17 religious houses in her efforts to reform the Carmelite order in the 16th century, was a contemplative in action. Mother Teresa also referred to herself and her sisters as contemplatives in action. A contemplative life without action would soon dry up and become lifeless, but an active life without contemplation is without ultimate purpose and quickly becomes neurotic and fanatical. 

All work, all labor, is to be ordered towards the contemplation of God, and of course, our entire life is really a preparation for the eternal contemplation of God with the entire communion of saints. That is the basic message of the 6-day work week which we inherited from the Jews, from the first story of creation in the book of Genesis. The creation allegory depicts God creating in 6 days and resting on the 7th. So, God is both active–He is always creating–, and He is contemplative; He beholds the goodness of what He creates. What is interesting about this story is that after all His work was done, “God saw all that he had made and indeed, it was very good”. That’s what an artist does when he finishes his work; he stands back and takes it all in, contemplating it. If he’s a good artist, he is pleased with it. The sabbath, in other words, is primarily a day of contemplation, which is the highest kind of activity. But, in that same chapter of Genesis, God also sees what He creates after each day of creation, and after each day, the scriptures indicate that “God saw that it was good”. So, there is a contemplative element weaved throughout the week. 

For the Jews, the work week is an imitation of God, in which we co-create, we share in God’s perpetual creation of the world, but it also includes a contemplative element every day. After each day, we are called to reflect upon the goodness of the day, to reflect upon the hand of God present in our daily life, how God has manifested himself during the course of the day. In the end, at the end of our lives, we enter into his rest, symbolized by the 7th day, to delight in his supreme goodness forever. 

The more we love something, the more we think about it. Those people who are “in love” usually can’t think of anything other than the one they’re in love with. They see the beloved’s face everywhere. And of course, the purpose of this life is to grow in the love of God, to prepare for an eternal life of contemplation of God, to behold His face forever. God loves each one of us as if there is only one of us–as if we are the only person who exists, and we have his undivided attention at every instant of the day. The purpose of our life here is to come to know that love, to experience it. If we really knew it, not much in life would trouble us, and we’d be thinking of God all the time. And just as the one who is “in love” sees the beloved’s face everywhere, so too, we’d see the Lord everywhere, in all things and in all situations. And then life becomes more and more ecstatic, like the experience of being in love. When God looked upon all He had made and saw that it was very good, He saw Himself in His creation. Creation is good and beautiful because God is the Supremely Good and Beautiful. A work of art always reflects the personality and character of the artist, and the cosmos is one large and continuous hymn to God–that is actually one of the titles of a great book by Jesuit priest and scientist, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Hymn of the Universe¾there’s nothing like scientists who have a deeply religious and contemplative spirit; for they see parables everywhere in creation. Teilhard writes: “Blessed be you, universal matter, immeasurable time, boundless ether, triple abyss of stars and atoms and generations: you who by overflowing and dissolving our narrow standards of measurement reveal to us the dimensions of God.” 

But of course, not everyone is a scientist. Mother Teresa certainly was not, but she was a contemplative in action, and she could see the Lord in the concrete situations that she found herself in, which enriched so much of her writings. She saw the Lord in the faces of the poor and she saw the Lord in the faces of her Hindu and Muslim brothers and sisters in India. Wherever we are called to be, the Lord is there, and if we are reflective enough, we will begin to see Him there. 

Our own unique active life, whatever that is, provides us with unique experiences, and when we reflect deeply upon those experiences, we begin to know God from a unique angle. At that point, we have something unique to offer the Church, because our experience is unique. And so the active life with its rich and diverse experiences provides material for the contemplative life, and the contemplative life in turn enriches the active life. 

But as we get older, we begin to feel the body slowing down. Old age is supposed to be more and more contemplative, more and more reflective. One could say that after retirement, life becomes less active, and as our age increases, our life becomes increasingly less active, but this may not be entirely true. The activity we are called to in our old age is of a different sort. When my daughter was a little girl, after the 5 o’clock Mass, she’d always go out for coffee with “the ladies”. These were seniors of the parish whom she really liked and clicked with. Some have died, and the rest are shut-ins who can’t get to Mass–although Mass can come to them. But I recently told one of the ladies just how significant that friendship and those moments at Tim Hortons were for my daughter and her growth as a person. She didn’t really know what I was talking about; she didn’t see that just her presence, her being there, was a great work of mercy. But it was.

Also, as we get even older, we may get to the point where we can barely take care of ourselves anymore. In this case, we are still called to serve others actively by allowing others to take care of us. That’s how we are of service to others at the end of our lives. 

And so our life in the Person of Christ is both active and contemplative at the same time. A contemplative habit allows us to discern what activities really amount to nothing in the end¾and there are many¾, and which ones are significant and have eternal value. And a genuinely active life provides us with the experience that allows us to continually grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, who is always infinitely more than what we currently understand Him to be. 

Proclaiming the Kingdom


Homily for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Deacon Doug McManaman

            What today’s gospel reading reveals is that we are a missionary Church. The word missionary, like the word “mass”, comes from the Latin word “missa”, which means sent (mitto: I send). At the end of Mass, the deacon says:  “Go forth…” We come here to worship, to praise God, to listen to His word addressed to us, and to consume his body and blood, but there is a purpose to all of this, and that is “to be sent out into the world”, to walk in the power of the cross, and to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, that the kingdom is at hand, that is, within reach. 

            But what does it mean to be sent out into the world to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand? The way some people behave, it would appear they take it to mean being “preachy” and having all the answers to all religious questions; they are audacious, which to others usually comes across as obnoxious and pushy. Of course, that’s not what it means to proclaim the kingdom. The key to this question is in the Second Reading. Paul says: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.”

            It’s this last line: “but only a new creation” that I would like to focus on. In baptism, we have become a “new creation”; we entered into his death, symbolized by immersion into the waters of baptism, and we rose from that tomb with the life of grace infused into our souls, symbolized by the lifting up out of the water. Everyone who is baptized is a different person leaving the Church than when he or she first arrived at the Church. He or she is a new creation, an adopted son or daughter of God, deified, filled with the life of divine grace. This is significant, for we are not born in a state of grace; we are born in need of a savior. In baptism, we become Christ, so to speak; for we are anointed with sacred chrism, and the Greek word for “anointed one” is Christos. We become “little Christs”. That is why St. Paul says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”.  

            Immediately after baptism, we enjoy a baptismal innocence; we are completely and utterly innocent, free of sin. But we still carry the wounds of Original Sin, so it does not take long to tarnish that innocence–if it is adult baptisms that we are talking about. And our battle, for the rest of our lives, is to overcome the effects of Original Sin, in particular concupiscence (our tendency to sin and self-seeking). And we do that, of course, by allowing ourselves to become Christ more fully. As John the Baptist says: “He must increase, I must decrease”. It’s about becoming Christ increasingly, daily¾not about becoming a preachy and obnoxious religious bugaboo. It’s about carrying in our bodies the death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be made manifest to others (2 Cor 4, 10). 

            What this means is that to the degree we achieve this, those who come in contact with us will come in contact with Christ, without their knowing it. If the atheist, or the Muslim, or the Sikh knows you, and loves what he sees in you, then he loves Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly. If he is influenced by your charity and humility and even begins to emulate you, then he is following Christ without necessarily knowing it explicitly; and such people will find themselves with the sheep on the right side of Christ on the day of judgment, asking the Lord: When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, etc. 

            The kingdom of God is the redemptive presence of God in the world, through the power of the reconciling Spirit. Christ himself said the kingdom of God is within you (Lk 17, 21). That divine presence is within us, especially after receiving him in holy communion. 

            We have tremendous power when we are transformed into Christ. The spirit is far more powerful than matter, far more powerful than sounds and sights. When I was in the hospital back in 2003 to have a cancer tumor removed, lying in bed like a fileted fish, I noticed that I had an increased intuitive sense. When a nurse walked into the room, I knew immediately what kind of person she was, whether she cared, didn’t care, whether she was smart or incompetent, kind or indifferent, etc. It was a very interesting experience. When people are in a weakened and vulnerable state, something in them compensates, like we see with those who are blind; their sense of touch and hearing compensates and becomes far more acute. Something similar happens on the level of spirit. Some people know almost immediately what kind of person you are; they know it through their spirit, because your spirit radiates who and what you are, and they have the capacity to pick up on it. So, the more you and I die to ourselves and allow Christ to increase within us, by growing in charity and humility, by growing in faith, hope, and a very devoted prayer life, the more we influence others quietly but effectively. That’s what it means to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, and that’s how we move this world forward towards the fullness of the kingdom. In doing so, we are curing the sick and driving out demons. So much of human illness is psychosomatic. It begins in the soul and manifests in the body. But if the sick–and this includes the emotionally sick, those who are not well psychologically, as well as physically–, are in your presence and you have become Christ to a significant degree, you will bring healing to their souls, their emotional lives, and that can heal the body as well. And if you are full of light, you will drive out the darkness, because light chases the darkness, not the other way around. And so those who live in darkness, whose lives are entangled in the diabolical, will feel the difference in your presence, and they will either reject you in favor of darkness, or they will begin to escape the clutches of the evil that oppresses them. You become an exorcist without even knowing it. 

            You have that power. Christ said it in this gospel: Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.” The disciples he sent out discovered they had that power. However, they began to delight in it: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing, and said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” That delight can be dangerous, which is why Jesus said: “…do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

            This is the reason why for the most part we are unaware of the good we accomplish in this life as a result of our insertion in the person of Christ. If we knew, we’d likely take pleasure in it, and then we would stop decreasing, and if we stop decreasing, he no longer increases in us. And so we have to trust in the power of the cross. Our task is to reform ourselves first and foremost, to work for the increase of the kingdom of God within our own selves; if we do that, the Lord will provide everything else.