The characteristics of a Christian: meditation on the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD | 13 September 2023
Meditation from Divine Intimacy
Grant, O Lord, that my soul may be deeply rooted in charity and in humility.
The epistle (Eph 3:13–21) which we read in today’s Mass is one of the most beautiful passages in the letters of St Paul. In it we find the famous counsel of the apostle addressed to the Ephesians, which summarises in three parts, the whole of the spiritual life.
“That the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ … would grant you … to be strengthened by His Spirit with might unto the inward man.”
The inward man is the human spirit regenerated by grace; it is the spiritual man who has renounced all material things and the pleasures of the senses. This man is in each one of us and should be strong in order to keep up the struggle against our lower nature, which will always be a part of us while we are on earth, and is always trying to drag us down. The apostle rightly asks this fortitude of the Holy Spirit, because the strength of our virtue is not sufficient unless it is supported by what the Holy Spirit infuses into us through His gifts.
“That Christ may dwell by faith in your hearts.”
Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit already dwells in the soul in the state of grace, but His presence can always become more profound. And the more profound His presence, the more deeply will the soul be penetrated with divine charity, until it becomes truly “rooted and founded” in love. If we wish to grow in love, we should keep ourselves in contact with the fount of love — with God living in our soul.
“That you may be able to comprehend … the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge.”
To comprehend the mystery of God’s love, insofar as it is possible to our limitations, is the summit of the spiritual life. Christianity is all love: we are Christians in the measure that we live in love, in the measure that we understand God’s love. Yet this mystery always leaves us a little incredulous, a little skeptical. Oh! if we could see, as the blessed do, that God is love and wishes nothing but love; that the way to go to Him is the way of love; that suffering, mortification and humility are only means to reach perfect love, and to correspond with the love of the God who is Charity! Then indeed we would be “filled unto all the fullness of God.”
St Paul in the epistle has exhorted us to be rooted in love, and in the gospel (Lk 14:1–11), Jesus exhorts us to be rooted in love and in humility.
Despite the tacit disapproval of the pharisees, caused by their narrowness of mind and heart, Jesus cured a man of dropsy on the Sabbath, thus teaching us again the great importance of love of neighbour. In vain would we believe that we were rooted in the love of God if we failed in our love of neighbour. How could one think that an act of fraternal charity might be in opposition to the law for sanctifying the Sabbath? Such are the aberrations of one who pretends to love God while paying attention solely to his own interests, without any thought for the needs of others. This is not Christianity, but pharisaism and the destruction of charity.
To be rooted in love, we must also be rooted in humility, for only he who is humble is capable of really loving God and his neighbour.
The gospel continues with a practical lesson in humility, condemning those who seek the first places. We should not think that this refers only to material places; it refers also to those places which our pride seeks to occupy in the esteem and regard of others. It is really humiliating to note how our self-love always tries to make us take a higher place than that which is due us, and this to our own confusion, for “he that exalteth himself shall be humbled”. St Bernard says:
“Let us always take the lowest place, there is no harm in humbling ourselves and believing that we are less than we really are. But there is exceeding harm and great evil in wishing to elevate ourselves, even if only a finger’s breadth, above what we are and in preferring ourselves to even one. There is no danger in stooping too much to pass through a low doorway, whereas there would be great danger in lifting our head even an inch above the lintel, as we would strike against it and injure our head; similarly, we should not be afraid that we shall humble ourselves too much, but should fear and abominate the slightest movement of presumption.”
Let us, like the saints, ask God to send us a humiliation every time our pride tries to raise us above others; this will be the surest way to become rooted in humility. At the same time, we shall be rooted in charity and shall thus possess the two fundamental characteristics of a Christian soul.
“O Lord, increase my faith in Your love, so that I may be able to say to You in all truth, ‘I have known and have believed the charity which God hath to me.’ It seems to me that this is the greatest act of our faith, the most beautiful way to render You love for love; in it is the hidden secret of which St Paul speaks, a secret which my soul longs to understand, because in understanding it, I shall thrill with joy. Make me capable of believing in Your exceeding love for me. Then I shall not stop at preferences or feelings. It will matter little if I feel Your presence or not, whether You send me joy or suffering. I shall believe in Your love and that will suffice. Grant, O God, that my soul may penetrate into Your depths and remain there, rooted and founded in love.
“O Lord, when I ponder within myself Your immensity, Your faithfulness, the proofs of love You have shown me, and Your benefits, and then look at myself and see how I have outraged You, I can only turn upon my soul with a profound feeling of contempt; yet this self-contempt is not strong enough to cast me down as low as I would wish. O Lord, plunge me into humility! It seems to me that to be plunged into humility is to be plunged into You; for, living in You who are the Truth, I cannot fail to realise my nothingness. The humble soul is the chosen recipient, the vessel capable of receiving Your grace, and only into it do You wish to pour Your grace. Grant then, O Lord, that I may be humble, and make me understand that the humble soul will never put You high enough or itself low enough.”Cf. Sr Elizabeth of the Trinity, J,6-i1,8-TJ, 9.