Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
“Learn from me, for I in meek and humble of heart.” With these words, Jesus teaches us the inner secrets of His Heart, His Sacred Heart, so full of love for us. He teaches us how to love God and our neighbor, as He loves us – by making our hearts like unto His, meek and humble.
Jesus says, “Learn from me.” In other words, Jesus Christ is our Teacher, on two levels: divine and human. Divine, because He is God, the Eternal Son of the Father; and human, because He is truly man, the Eternal Word made flesh. And because He is fully human, He knows, from experience, from His own life here on earth, all that we go through: our trials, our joys, our sorrows.
As perfect man, Jesus fully reveals what we, as human beings made in God’s own image, are called to be; what God wants us to be, i.e., like Christ; we are called to be other Christs.
And Jesus teaches us, by His own life, by His words, His actions, how we can become truly and fully human; how we can “be all that God calls us to be.” Recall the old commercials with the line, “Be all that you can be, join the Army.” Well, Jesus has a different message. He says: “Be all that you can be – all that God calls you to be – by following Me. Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”
And in today’s Gospel, Jesus goes on to say, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” What is Jesus teaching us here? That to follow Him, to take His yoke upon our shoulders, we must practice those two great virtues which are symbolized by His Heart: meekness (or gentleness), and humility.
I’m sure this message of Jesus did not sit well with the Jewish leaders who heard Him speak. They were looking for a Messiah who would be an earthly king and make Israel the supreme earthly kingdom. But God had revealed in the Old Testament that the Messiah, the Christ, would be a different kind of king. We see this in our first reading, from the Prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion . . . Your king shall come to you; a just Savior is he, meek and riding on an ass.”
Recall that on Palm Sunday, Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a horse, an animal of stately bearing, as an earthly king would have done; He did not enter Jerusalem to conquer it by overthrowing the Romans, as the scribes and Pharisees had hoped. No, He came as a meek and lowly King, riding on an ass, who would conquer not only Jerusalem, but the whole world, through His sacrificial death on the Cross. He came not to conquer earthly powers, but rather to conquer the things that really enslave us: sin and death. He came also to conquer our hearts, and He conquered all these by love, specifically, by suffering love. Jesus is the King of Love.
And Jesus knew that the “worldly wise” would reject Him and His Kingdom. Only those with a childlike mind and heart would accept Him. This is precisely why in the Gospel today Jesus says: “Father, . . . Although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones” – which can also be translated, “to the merest children.”
What is Christ saying here? That only those who have the disposition of little children will be able to grasp His teaching. Elsewhere Jesus says, “To enter the kingdom of heaven you must change and become like little children.”
To really and truly follow Christ, we must become like little children – spiritually, that is; we must develop, with the help of God’s grace, a character or disposition of spiritual childhood, because by reason of our Baptism, we are all spiritual children of God, our Heavenly Father.
What are the qualities of this spiritual childhood which we must strive to cultivate in ourselves? By studying the natural qualities of children we can come to learn the supernatural qualities we need to become spiritual children of God our Father.
What are the chief natural qualities of children that we must develop spiritually, or supernaturally?
First, there is humility. Little children are naturally humble; they are not puffed up with pride, they are not arrogant.
A child is docile, and therefore teachable. If a parent tells something to a little child, the child believes. We tell children that Jesus is God and they believe it; we tell them that Jesus is really and truly present in the Eucharist in the substance of His Body and Blood, and they believe it.
Another quality is dependence. In the womb, the child is totally dependent upon its mother for survival. Even after birth, the child is totally dependent on its mother and father for life, nourishment, health and knowledge.
Still another natural quality of children is trusting confidence. Children trust and have total confidence in those who love and care for them.
The degree to which we cultivate within ourselves the natural qualities of a child on a spiritual or supernatural level, is the degree to which we will grow in holiness, into a likeness of Christ.
First, we must drive to grow in humility of mind and heart. Simply put, this means we must always remind ourselves of who God is, and who we are:
– that God is our Creator who sustains us in being and who constantly showers His graces upon us;
– that we are His creatures, and that any natural gifts and talents we have come from Him, and any good we do is the result of His grace – and knowing this, any praise and honor we receive from others, we must not keep for ourselves – this only leads to pride (“Oh, I am so intelligent, so beautiful, so athletically gifted – I am really wonderful”), but rather, we must give all glory to God.
The motto of the Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, sums it up well: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam (“To the greater glory of God”).
The same can be said with the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her Magnificat prayer: “My soul doth magnify the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary was filled with gifts and graces more than all the angels and saints combined; yet she did not revel in her own glory, but realized that all her greatness came from God, and therefore she always gave glory to Him.
Humility of mind and heart leads naturally to other supernatural qualities we must try cultivate within ourselves. One is docility. We must be docile, be ready and willing to be taught, and to realize our need to be taught. By whom? By the Holy Catholic Church which was founded by Christ Himself to be both Mater et Magister, that is, Mother and Teacher.
The Church is our Mother, who by the sacraments gives birth to us and nourishes us; and our Teacher, who imparts to us the teaching of Christ. And humility is the foundation for docility. Proud and arrogant people are not docile; they are unwilling to be taught, or to obey. I love Psalm 119, which says: “Teach me, Lord, the demands of your precepts, train me to observe your law, and keep it with my heart.”
Humility also helps us to be aware of our total dependence on God for everything: our lives, our very existence – if God stopped thinking about us, we would cease to exist. Now that’s a most humbling thought!
We cannot perform even the smallest, most simple good act unless God’s grace moves us to do so; we are totally dependent upon Him for any good that we do. This should inspire us, in humility, to pray always to God and ask for the grace that we need to carry out His holy will; and to pray in thanksgiving for all the graces that He has given us.
Finally, we must strive to cultivate a trusting, childlike confidence in God. Along with humility, I think confidence is the most fundamental quality of spiritual childhood. As God the Father’s little children, we must abandon ourselves completely into His loving and provident care, knowing that He is all good and all loving, that He knows what we need before we ask Him, and that He lets nothing happen to us that is not for our ultimate good and for our salvation – even (and especially) the sufferings and trials He allows us to encounter in our lives.
Our patroness, Saint Therese, is truly a model here. Her Little Way of Spiritual Childhood is a marvelous guide for us to follow. St. Therese firmly believed that we need both deep humility and great confidence, to counterbalance one another, as it were. Without humility, we become proud and arrogant; and without confidence, it is easy to lose hope.
With her deep humility and great confidence, she was able, on the one hand, to realize that without God she could do no good; on the other hand, she had the greatest confidence that with God’s help, she could become the greatest of saints. On this latter point she was right, of course, for numerous Popes have called Therese the “greatest saint of the modern era.”
St. Therese, pray for us, that we may follow your Little Way of Spiritual Childhood in order that we may become the great saints that God calls us to be!