Q. Jesus says that we are to learn from Him, He who is meek and humble of heart. But Jesus was not always meek and humble of heart. He talked back to the Scribes and Pharisees, He drove the moneychangers out of the Temple, He talked back to the Sanhedrin, He wasn’t bashful about claiming to be the Son of God. How can we follow His advice about humility when He wasn’t such a good example of humility? — G.P., Florida.
A. In Matt. 11:29-30, Jesus invited His listeners to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light.” The Catechism defines humility as “the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer” (Glossary).
No one meets that definition better than Jesus does. Did Jesus acknowledge His Father as the Author of all good and the One to whom He owed obedience? He certainly did. During His Agony in the Garden, Jesus three times asked the Father to spare Him the suffering that He was about to undergo, but then said, “not as I will, but as you will” and “your will be done” (Matt. 26:39, 42). Jesus could have refused to suffer His Passion and death, but instead He humbly submitted to the will of His Father.
Was Jesus showing lack of humility when He chose to be born in a cave for animals? Or when He chose to spend His first 30 years as a humble carpenter in a remote village in Palestine? Or when He chose to live out in the open with “nowhere to rest his head” (Matt. 8:20)? Or when He chose to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, instead of on a white horse, as kings and conquerors did (cf. Luke 19:35-38)? Or when He meekly submitted to the jeers of the crowd on Calvary and asked His Father to forgive His tormenters when He could have struck them dead (cf. Luke 23:34)?
The opposite of humble is proud and arrogant. Was Jesus arrogant when He claimed to be God, e.g., when He said that “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30)? No, He was stating a fact and pointing people in the direction of His Father. As He was when He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Was Jesus lacking in humility when He scolded the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, or when He called them “blind guides…blind fools” who are “like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth” (Matt. 24:16, 17, 27)? No, He was warning the Jewish leaders that they had better repent of their sins if they expected to get to Heaven.
Being meek does not mean being a doormat, nor does it mean standing idly by while evil deeds are being perpetrated, as with the desecration of the Temple by the moneychangers. There is such a thing as righteous anger, which compelled Jesus to chase these men out of the Temple because they had made “my Father’s house a marketplace” (John 2:16).
In his Life of Christ, Venerable Fulton Sheen offered an answer to G.P.’s question:
“When one takes into account also His [Jesus’] reiterated assertions about His Divinity — such as asking us to love Him above parents, to believe in Him even in the face of persecution, to be ready to sacrifice our bodies in order to save our souls in union with Him — to call Him just a good man ignores the facts. No man is good unless he is humble; and humility is a recognition of truth concerning oneself. A man who thinks he is greater than he actually is, is not humble, but a vain and boastful fool. How can any man claim prerogatives over conscience, and over history, and over society and the world, and still claim he is ‘meek and humble of heart’? But if He is God as well as man, His language falls into place and everything He says is intelligible” (pp. 209-210).
Q. I always read your Q&A first in the second section of The Wanderer and have enjoyed it for many years. Now I find myself in the predicament of many of your other readers in that a relative will be married in a civil ceremony in October, though he and his fiancée are both baptized Catholics.
Apparently, the Church would not allow them to have a Catholic ceremony out of doors since they are both Catholic. Would it be sinful for me to attend? — Name and State Withheld.
A. As you surely know if you have followed Catholic Replies over the years, canon 1108 of the Code of Canon Law says that a Catholic party can contract a valid marriage only in the presence of a Catholic bishop, priest, or deacon, who as the official witness of the Church must ask for and receive the consent of the parties in the name of the Church, and two other witnesses, whose function is to attest to the state that the marriage actually took place.
By taking part in a civil ceremony, your Catholic relative is objectively guilty of two sins — disobeying the law of the Church by entering into an invalid marriage and disobeying the law of God by planning to engage in acts of fornication, i.e., sexual acts outside of marriage.
One hallmark of a faithful Catholic is to follow the teachings of the Church established by Jesus to help us get to Heaven. Another hallmark is not to give bad example by pretending that it is no big deal to violate the teachings of Jesus and His Church. It is a big deal for your relative and fiancée to enter publicly into serious sin, thus separating themselves from God and jeopardizing their eternal salvation. It also would be bad example for you, as a faithful Catholic, to cooperate in their sin by attending the ceremony.
We are well aware of the family pressures to attend such a ceremony, having been through them ourselves when we declined to participate. We know that there could be hurt feelings on the part of your relative and his family, but you need to explain to them that, while you love them, you love Jesus more, and you do not want to do anything that would harm your relationship with God. That includes attending a ceremony that you sincerely believe to be contrary to God’s plan for married couples.
Taking this stand will not be easy, but Jesus never promised His faithful followers a rose garden. In fact, He said that we, like Him, would have crosses to carry in this life, but the reward for fidelity to Him will far outweigh the punishment for infidelity. We will ask our readers to pray for you and for your relative, and for all who find themselves in this predicament in our morally challenging times.
Q. A priest whom I know has recently been named pastor of three parishes in a collaborative. This priest has said that he doesn’t believe in Hell, that he has “simply outgrown my need for Hell. I believe in God’s unconditional love.” What can I say to him? — J.W., Massachusetts.
A. Probably nothing that will convince him to change his mind; just pray for him. Yes, God’s love and mercy are beyond limit, but what of the person steeped in sin who has no desire to repent? There is such a thing as final impenitence, where a person boldly rejects God’s love and mercy right to the moment of death, and is therefore incapable of getting to Heaven.
This priest must surely be aware that Jesus talked more about Hell than about Heaven, using the word “Gehenna” to refer to the “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), the “outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matt. 8:12), and “the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matt. 13:41-42). Speaking of the Last Judgment, Jesus warned that those who did not help the least of His brothers and sisters will be told, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
For this priest to state his unbelief in Hell is not only to mislead his parishioners but also to reject the explicit teaching of the Church, as stated clearly in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God’s merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called ‘hell’” (n. 1033).
The Catechism also says that “the teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity” (n. 1035), and that those who fail to tell their people about the warnings of Sacred Scripture and the Church neglect to inform them about what the Catechism describes as “an urgent call to conversion” (n. 1036).