August 15, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Humility of Jesus urges us to imitate him

(Tenth in a series)

Were you there when they stripped him of his clothes?”

The Tenth Station on the Way of the Cross describes humiliation upon humiliation. Jesus has arrived on Calvary, where the painful ritual of crucifixion begins. There is the pain of total powerlessness.

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a meditation for this Tenth Station: “Jesus is stripped of his garments. Clothing shows a person’s social position; it shows a person’s place in society, it makes that person someone. His public stripping means that Jesus is no longer anything at all, he is simply an outcast, despised by all alike.

“The moment of the stripping reminds us of the expulsion from Paradise: God’s splendor has fallen away from humanity, who now stands naked and exposed; unclad and ashamed.

“And so Jesus once more takes on the condition of fallen humanity. Stripped of his garments, he reminds us that we have all lost the ‘first garment,’ that is, God’s splendor. At the foot of the cross, the soldiers draw lots to divide his paltry possessions, his clothes” (Way of the Cross, Pauline Books and Media, Boston, p. 94).

Jesus is simply an outcast like others who were led to crucifixion in his day. Stripped of his clothes, he is powerless before his executioners.

This is his ultimate poverty in his human condition. He became poor for our sake. He endures the shame of this utter nakedness of poverty. He is handled roughly and, undoubtedly, the wounds caused by his scourging become bloody once more.

A prayerful reflection on a spirit of poverty and simplicity seems appropriate as we consider the witness of Jesus.

How do we deal with the power of ownership? Do we become preoccupied with things?

Someone once suggested that a good occasional reflection for spiritual discernment is the question: “Do I own my things or do my things own me?”

There is no evil in ownership as such; it becomes problematic when things begin to control our lives. Detachment is a virtue that frees us from untoward preoccupation with material things that distract us from personal charity to our family, friends and neighbors.

Pope Benedict referred to clothes as indicators of our place in society. An undue attachment to social status can lead not only to sinful pride, but also to a habit of exercising inappropriate control over other people.

Placing an unseemly priority on superficial status in our relationships in society is ultimately based on materialistic values as well. The appropriate Christian attitude is to foster the common good and not merely one’s personal good.

Simplicity is an attractive characteristic of someone who loves other people for their own sake. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta was one of the most admired people in the world because of her simple and unswerving love for everyone. She could love in this way because she saw Christ in every person she met no matter their status in society.

The late Pope John Paul II was so dearly loved because of his straightforward and compassionate manner of dealing with people. He did not put on airs and his love shone clearly.

One of the striking impressions made by Pope Benedict during his visit to our country last April was his unassuming and simple manner in every situation. As a bishop friend of mine observed, this Holy Father’s unaffected shyness is winsome. He rose to the public role that is his, and he spoke the truth clearly and with love. And so he made us proud.

The humiliation that Christ endured as he stood stripped before his executioners and the world calls us to humility. The disposition that fosters a humble spirit is purity of mind and heart. Honesty and integrity are qualities of a pure mind. Our society deeply desires people who are trustworthy, people who speak and live the truth as best they can.

Trust has been betrayed in our day by some who are in positions of trust. I think of those betrayed by clergy sexual abuse. I think of political leaders who betray the trust vested in them. All of us play a role in restoring that public trust. Pope Benedict’s words and actions laid a foundation for our imitation.

The humility of Jesus urges us to imitate him. Humility and honesty are the basis of chastity, to which all of us are called. To be chaste is to honor the true purpose and nature of human sexuality and love. Chastity respects the awesome nature of spousal love that is blessed by matrimony.

This is a difficult message in a culture that views sexual activity as self-centered recreation. The dishonest view of sexual interaction is enslaving. The Christian message of honesty, simplicity and chastity is freeing. Christ won our freedom at great personal cost. †

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