Monday, January 3, 2011

The Door of Humility

Homily from the Solemnity of the Epiphany - Year A

There is a Church in Bethlehem, built over the site, where tradition holds, is the spot where Jesus was born: the Church of the Nativity.  If you wish to visit the spot of Christ’s birth, you must first walk through the main entrance.  Unlike the doors of the main entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome which are 25 feet tall, the door of the main entrance of the Church of the Nativity is only about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide.  It was built as a very small entrance in ancient times to keep people from driving their carts or riding their horses into the Church.

These days, the caretakers of the Church of the Nativity don’t really have to worry about people trying to drive carts or ride horses into the Church.  However, the tiny doors still help to keep something else from entering the spot where Jesus was born: our own pride and egos.  Today, the main entrance to the Church is called “The Door of Humility” because when you pass through it, you must bow down to enter.

And when you walk through the Church and approach the main altar, you find beneath the altar a cave.  You descend a flight of steps to enter the cave and on the floor, you see a silver star with an inscription around it which reads: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”  Everyday, pilgrims visiting this site will get down on all fours and kiss the spot where Jesus was born.

Whenever we approach Jesus, we must do so with great humility.  This is what the Magi do in today’s Gospel.  The very reason why the Magi travel from the far East to see Jesus, is so they can bow down in humility before him.  The Magi came to King Herod and asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When we think of the Magi, we often think of the gifts they bring of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  But we often forget about their humility.  Before the Magi offer Jesus their gifts, they offer him their humility.  The Gospel states, “On entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

We must approach Jesus with humility because he is, as St. Thomas stated, “Our Lord and our God.”  Jesus is our friend, but he is our Lord and God first.  Before we can approach Jesus as a friend, we must first approach him as our Lord and God.

We approach Jesus in humility because he is our King.  And he is a benevolent King, not a ruthless tyrant.  He, who asks for our humility, is himself a humble king.  In fact, Jesus is humble before we are.  Before the Magi humbled themselves before Jesus, Jesus, who is God, humbled himself by being born as a man.  Born in a cave, into a poor family.  Having as his bed the manger, a feeding trough for animals.

There was a British admiral during the Revolutionary War named Lord Nelson, who was well known for treating his vanquished opponents with the greatest kindness and courtesy.  One time, after one of his great victories, a defeated opponent was brought aboard the deck of Lord Nelson’s flagship.  Knowing Nelson’s reputation for courtesy, the defeated opponent walked briskly across the deck towards Nelson with his hand outstretched to shake hands in friendship.  Nelson’s hand remained at his side and he said, “Your sword first, then your hand.”

Jesus wants us to embrace the virtue of humility so that he can take away our aggression.  And while we may not carry a sword at our side, ready to use against God and neighbor, we do carry a weapon of another sort: our sin.  By humbling ourselves before Jesus, we allow him to disarm us of our sin.

Of course, the ordinary way Jesus disarms us of our sin is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But in a few moments we will demonstrate our humility in another way.  As we approach Jesus in the Eucharist, immediately before stretching out our hands or our tongue to receive Jesus, we offer him a simple bow of the head.  Before I receive Jesus in the Eucharist, I must genuflect before him.  In this simple, yet sincere gesture, we acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord and God.  And in giving himself to us, Jesus welcomes us as his friend.

So, as we approach Jesus in this Eucharist, let us bow down and enter through a door of humility.  With a simple bow of our heads, let us offer Jesus our sword first, then our hand.

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