Many days, it is a struggle to find the time to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, especially the Office of Readings, but inevitably when I do, I find at least one very special point for meditation. Periodically, I’ll try to post a little Meditation on something particularly striking.
Here’s the first of these posts.
This past Sunday’s Office of Readings (for the Third Sunday of Advent) contained Isaiah 29:13-24 and a related sermon by our great St. Augustine. They lead us into an Advent meditation on humility. Of note:
Since this people draws near with words only …
And their reverence for me has become routine observance of the precepts of men,
Therefore I will again deal with this people in surprising and wondrous fashion:
The wisdom of its wise men shall perish and the understanding of its prudent men be hid.
When we turn deaf to Him to attend to our own priorities, Our Lord will do what He must to get our attention, even render us foolish!
Woe to those who would hide their plans too deep for the Lord!
Who work in the dark, saying “Who sees us, or who knows us?
All who are alert to do evil will be cut off, those whose mere word condemns a man,
Who ensnare his defender at the gate, and leave the just man with an empty claim.
Our sins are never hidden from God, Who knows and understands them all. Those who use their cunning to harm others will be parted from God definitively.
Now Jacob shall have nothing to be ashamed of, nor shall his face grow pale.
When his children see the work of my hands in his midst,
They shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the Holy One of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel.
Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding and those who find fault shall receive instruction.
God desires for us to worship and adore Him (which Catholics do especially in Mass and Eucharistic Adoration). When we worship and adore — when we heed Him — though we sin, He will correct us and teach us. To worship and adore — especially the Baby Jesus at Christmas — and to acknowledge our need for His correction and teaching, all take humility, such as that found in a key saint of Advent, St. John the Baptist.
St. Augustine then explains that St. John the Baptist was the “voice,” but Jesus is “the Word.”
John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning, Christ is the Word who lives forever.
Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound.
When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine. In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away.
When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: “The word ought to grow, and I should diminish?” The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: “My joy is complete.”
[T]he voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offense to the word…And the question came: “Who are you then?” He replied: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way for the Lord.'”
To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares that he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory…He humbled himself.
The “voice” (St. John the Baptist) does what God made him to do and then quickly fades out so that “the Word” (Jesus) may remain with us. The saint’s humble life and teaching — the “wondrous fashion” of God — prepares us for Christ’s Presence, unlike Isaiah’s sinner’s cunning, which only steals from us!
In Advent, it is especially fitting to consider the Magnificat, Our Lady‘s humble response to St. Elizabeth, despite the fact that Our Blessed Mother was preserved by God from all sin (Luke 1:46-55, RSV-CE):
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm, he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.”
We might also consider the lessons of the humilty of the shepherds who immediately came to worship the Baby Jesus, and the Magi who traveled far over much time to present valuable gifts to Our Lord. Finally, we might further explore the implications of a few contrasts: the humble faith of St. John the Baptist with the early assured doubt of John’s father, Zechariah, literally struck dumb by God for a time; or Blessed Mother, who humbly accepted God’s will to change her life, with Herod, who killed thousands of innocents to oppose God’s will and assure himself of dominance; or even the humility and honest seeking of the Magi and shepherds with the self-satisfied entertainment-seeking of the latter Herod, who assented to Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine!
St. John the Baptist, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Blessed Mother, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Holy shepherds and Magi, pray for us, that we may be humble.
Dear saints and angels of God, pray for us, that we may be humble.