Ordinary Time 16, Year A
- Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom (Lk. 12:32)
In a talk to missionaries, St. Vincent de Paul indicated that it would be odd to ask individual members of the Congregation of the Mission to avoid honors and love contempt, and then expect the Congregation as a whole to cherish and seek honors and be scared of being held in scorn (P. Coste, XI, 60).
For St. Vincent, then, the practice of humility is not just for individuals but also for the community; individual humility is hardly compatible with, or possible in, a prideful community. Hence, St. Vincent repeatedly reminded his missionaries, in their rules and in his talks and letters, of their forming but a little congregation or company. Such company or community should not consider itself deserving of such exalted descriptions as “holy Company or Community” nor would it need to make attempts at self-publicity that could lead it to being given too much importance by others (Common Rules of the C.M., I, 1; II, 13, 18; VII, 1; X, 1; P. Coste, VI, 176-177; IX, 303; X, 200; XI, 114-115, 434; XI, 438).
And the motivation to be humble as a community, according to St. Vincent, is the imitation of the Son of God who called the Company of his apostles and disciples “little flock” (P. Coste, XI, 439, as cited by Jacques Delarue in The Holiness of Vincent de Paul [London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1960]). Not to want to be held in esteem, adds St. Vincent, is to want to be treated as Jesus was treated, who passed for, in the minds of people, “a madman, a traitor, a beast, a sinner, although he was none of these,” and who willingly let himself be “superseded by one like Barrabas, a criminal.” For a missionary to follow Jesus in his humility is to “believe that there is no one on earth more miserable and wretched than oneself, that the Company of the Mission is the feeblest, the most wretched of all Companies, and to be really glad when people talk about it like this.”
We may find it quite odd, of course, that St. Vincent would speak of the importance of humility in the manner that he did, calling himself, in this particular instance, as more miserable than anyone else and his community as the most wretched of all. But, as Father Robert P. Maloney, C.M., points out, we can move beyond St. Vincent’s language and a rhetoric that was characteristic of the 17th century and focus on the fundamental gospel value of humility that St. Vincent was upholding (cf. The Way of Vincent de Paul, Chapter II, Part III, 2, “Humility” [Brooklyn, New York: New City Press, 1992]). And clearly, besides seeking to motivate his followers to embrace humility and learn from Jesus, the meek and humble of heart, St. Vincent would not want honor, esteem and greatness to lead to pride, self-reliance and self-righteousness (cf. Thomas F. McKenna, C.M., Praying with Vincent de Paul, Meditation 9, “Humility” [Winona, Minnesota: Saint Mary’s Press, 1994]).
For pride, self-reliance and self-righteousness can easily make us blind to the truth that God’s kingdom by its nature is transcendent, “because it belongs to God”—explains Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., in “The Prodigal Sower,” America (July 7-14, 2008)—and eschatological, “because its fulfillment is in the future.” Alas, the destructive presumption that such blindness sadly gives rise to.
Presuming too much, and unconsciously perhaps, that we are primarily responsible for bringing about the kingdom of God, or even facilely assuming a particular reign or authority on earth to be divinely ordered and somehow co-extensive with God’s kingdom, we lord it over people, force them into submission and thus violate their freedom—all in the name of the Almighty. We thus also miss completely the point that true might is the source of justice, that genuine mastery over all things actually spells leniency to all, and that authentic exercise of power, available at one’s will, gives to wayward children good ground for hope and permits repentance for sins.
There is surely no denying that the kingdom of God is already here since Jesus has sown the good seed—which explains too why the enemies of God’s kingdom are by no means idle either (cf. also Mt. 3:2; 4:17; 5:3; 10:7; 12:28; Lk. 10:9). But it is like the tiniest seed, or like a bit of yeast hidden in the dough, that is to say, the kingdom is still in the process—though definitely unstoppable—of being fully realized and becoming wholly pervasive, and therefore is not yet, but rather still to come, which makes us cry out with eager and joyful longing, “May your kingdom come!”
The kingdom of God, as Archbishop Romero understood it clearly, is ultimately beyond our efforts, beyond our vision, and it always lies beyond us (cf. “A prayer by Archbishop Oscar Romero at ). But as the seed sown by the Son of Man and the yeast that leavens the whole batch, the children of the kingdom—as Archbishop Romero also realized—attest to the ultimately unstoppable growth and pervasive expansion of the kingdom as they, albeit inadequately, make statements opposing injustice, express their faith in prayer with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, confess their sins, failures and imperfections, attend to and visit those craving for healing and wholeness, develop programs and set goals and objectives that aim at accomplishing the Church’s mission.
The children of the kingdom, for sure, are neither the Lord of the Harvest nor the Head Baker. They are not the Master Builder. They are simply the tiniest seed sown, a small quantity of yeast hidden in the dough, the stones laid for a building. They belong to a tiny flock, the Church of the poor, relying in God’s providence and making no pretense to power or virtue. But like the kernel of wheat fallen to the ground and seemingly dead, they do not remain just a kernel but turn into God’s wheat to be ground so they may become the pure bread of Christ (Jn. 12:24; cf. also St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans). They can serve as living stones and be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, the stone which presumptuous builders rejected but has become the cornerstone (1 Pt. 2:5, 7).