Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must “turn and become like children.” Jesus says so. So, are we to smear our faces with candy and apple juice, run through the halls in diapers, drop to the floor in random and inexplicable tantrums, and just otherwise behave like inebriated dwarves? If so, then this business of getting into the Kingdom sounds messy and loud. Of course, this isn't what Jesus is telling us we must do. He is telling us that entry into the Kingdom depends on acquiring a child-like innocence and humility, a wide-eyed, trusting sense of wonder at the gift we have received in eternal life. As adults – long suffering in a fallen world – we are less likely to be innocent and humble and more likely to be cynical and prideful. Cynicism and pride are time-tested defenses against the assaults of the Devil. Or so we might believe. The truth is: cynicism and pride are weapons of the Devil, and one of his triumphs is convincing us that world-weariness and arrogance protect us from disappointment and despair. Jesus counters, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is the good habit of living constantly in the knowledge that we are totally dependent on God for all things, including our very existence. Aquinas teaches us that humility provides two benefits: “. . .[first], to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately. . .and [second] to strengthen the mind against despair, [urging] it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason” (ST II-II.161.1). That's a Dominican's way of saying that humility teaches us the limits of our gifts and at the same time exhorts us reach the heights of those limits prudently. If humility restrains and strengthens the mind against immoderate pursuits, then pride shoves us toward foolish ambition and jealousy, encouraging us to reach for gifts we have not been given and grasp at great things we are never meant to have. By asking “who is the greatest among us?” the disciples are laying the ground for ambition – “I can become the greatest!” And for jealousy – “Why is he greater than me?” The foolish part of ambition comes when jealousy tempts us to call Evil Good, and we choose to do Evil so that Good may be done. “If I am shrewd and network just right I can become a bishop and clean up this mess of a diocese.” “If I maneuver myself into becoming a formator, I can make sure MY advisees know the REAL Catholic faith!” “If I play the game wisely and become pastor, I can reshape this parish to MY liking.” The folly of ambition is the tragic misuse of one's gifts to puff up one's ego. Accordingly, it's a ticket to Hell.
To enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must “turn and become like children.” We must turn away from pride, cynicism, and foolish ambition. Away from the lie that My Way is The Way and if only others would recognize my worthy genius we would all be better off. Innocence and humility lead to holiness through service. Therefore, the innocent and humble priest leads others to holiness through his service to those who need him most. Who is the greatest among us here at NDS? He is the one who least needs to be known as such.
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