Saturday, February 12, 2011

Triodion Begins--Lesson # 1: Humility

Today was the beginning of the use of the Lenten Triodion. The next four Sundays in the Eastern Rite churches are pre-Lenten but serve as springboards for how we are to enter into the great fast with attention to our spiritual plight, the necessity of our Lord's cross and repentance. Today is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.

I need not go into a full recap of the story since this is probably one of the most familiar parables from the Gospel according to St. Luke. Two very different men, a tax collector loathed by all and a Pharisee, a member of the "holier than thou" religious party both enter into the synagogue to pray. The Pharisee boasts of his own great deeds; the publican can only boast of his sinfulness. The Pharisee exults in his generosity; the publican exults in his meekness. The Pharisee praises his alms-giving; publicans were well known for outright theft. The Pharisee commends his own phsyical fasting from foods; the publican does not fast from his sins. The lesson of this parable can be summed up in one word: HUMILITY.

Our society has a skewed idea as to what is considered humility. Some view humility as the inability to take a complement. "Hey, you're a good singer." "No, I'm not." "Wow, that guy is so humble." Others view humility as not reacting in the same manner when another person attacks or curses you. In most cases, we harbor resentment towards the person that attacks and curses us. Humility is not a passive aggressive trait.

Humility derives from the Latin word, humus which means "earth." To be humble and to possess humility one must be as the earth. Consider what we humans do to the earth. We pollute it, we contaminate it, we treat it as a commodity. But, in spite of all of that, the earth produces wheat, fruit and other great plants in abundance for us. And it keeps doing so year after year, of course helped by man's innovations. To be humble is to not simply shrug off complements or foster a passive aggressive mindset to those who persecute us. Humility and being humble is to be steadfast in the Gospel to bless those who curse, pray for those who persecute, love those who are indifferent or even spiteful. It is to regard ourselves as the lowest so that others may have what is the highest.

To live the Life in Christ, humility must be paramount. Without humility all other virtues we have will be for naught. Such is why that this week is free from all fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Fasting, as excellent and necessary it is as a spiritual discipline, is only a diet without humility. Fasting without prayer, without alms giving, without our eyes on Christ is nothing more than a change in diet. Humility must be incorporated.

How do we practice humility? For starters, we must do as the publican does. In our churches, in our icon corners or at any time we pray to God, we must first confess that we are sinners and that only God can forgive our sins. Yes, give thanks to God and entreat Him for what you need, but be mindful of your own sinfulness before the Lord who made you not to be a sinner but to be in His image and likeness.

Let us begin our journey to Golgotha with humility!

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