Many people grow up into adulthood without ever reflecting explicitly on the real purpose of life. They grow up assuming various goals without which they consider their life would be a failure. I remember when I was a boy an adult relative of mine tried to dissuade me from my intention of being a priest because he honestly thought it was a waste of a life. He had certain assumptions, and they were wrong. People live for various goals, such as money, or status and position, or love and friendship. These things cannot be regarded as the fundamental purpose of life. The purpose of life? It is to know, love and serve God.
Now, we cannot love and serve God if we do not know him. How, though, are we to come to know God? The way to do it is this: it is by coming to know Jesus Christ. To know Jesus is to know the Father - for as he said at the last supper, he who sees me sees the Father. In him man has been able to see the living God. Our Lord said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The project of life is to work at coming to know Jesus - Jesus who has called us to be his friends.
To do this, we must be faithful to some plan of a spiritual life. Some of the elements for a Catholic in such a plan are, I would suggest, a brief period of five or ten minutes of morning prayer, the daily Rosary, daily spiritual reading, perhaps something like a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, with the person of our Lord at the centre of each of those spiritual exercises. In the five or ten minutes of morning prayer, you could take a passage from the Gospel, perhaps the Gospel that will be read at Mass that day, and simply be with Jesus in that Gospel scene. Think of the fact that he is with you now, and listen to his words as given in the text and watch him in the scene, and speak to him in the depths of your heart. In this way you will come to know the man Jesus, this man who is God. You will come to know him as your friend. I recommend that you then keep in the presence of our Lord during the day in the midst of your work, allowing the knowledge of Jesus attained through loving attention to him to linger in your soul. The way to know God is through the humanity of Jesus, the man Jesus. This is why too a little daily spiritual reading, apart from your morning prayer, is so important. What is spiritual reading? Perhaps five minutes of reading the Gospel, and perhaps another five minutes reading a life of our Lord or a life of a saint. A weekly holy hour is also an excellent opportunity to come to know and love our Lord - spend the holy hour perhaps thinking prayerfully and lovingly of a few Gospel scenes, with yourself there in the scenes communing with him. Then there is one’s daily Rosary, meditating prayerfully on our Lord in the scenes of the mysteries of the Rosary. In all of this, one will be coming to know and love Jesus, the man Jesus who is God. We ought work on getting to know Jesus in his holy humanity.
Jesus is not a human person. He is a divine person - one of the three divine persons, each of whom is the one only God. He is divine and has been with the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity. From all eternity the plan of God had been that the Son become man and share with us the divine life. And so in the fulness of time, the Father sent the Son, and by the power of the Holy Spirit he became man. The Father did not become man, nor did the Holy Spirit, only the Son. So Jesus was and is God, God the Son. He took on a human way of existing when he was born of the Virgin Mary, while retaining his divine nature. He had a human mind, a human will, a human soul, a human body, he was a man like us, except for sin.
The mere fact of the Incarnation, or of God becoming man, shows us a fundamental feature of the character of God. God is humble. The person of our Lord is the infinite God, all-powerful, full of divine glory, utterly beyond the need of anything. Yet he did not cling to all of this, but rather he became as men are. During his life it was altogether obvious that he was a man, a real man. He was of a certain height. He had a certain build and proportion. He had certain features and a definite accent in speaking his first language, which would have been Aramaic, or just possibly Hebrew. He probably grew up also knowing Greek and would have spoken it with a certain accent. I speak of our Lord here simply as acting within his human nature, without reference to the knowledge he could call on and exercise as God. Perhaps because of the prevalence of Roman soldiers and of the Roman authority, he may well also have known Latin. These three languages were above his cross as he died, and he did communicate with Pilate, who would have spoken to him in Latin, or perhaps Greek. Our Lord had a certain tone of voice. He spoke with a certain intonation. He smiled and laughed in a certain way and walked in a certain manner. All these are aspects of being thoroughly man, which he was. Nobody doubted he was a man - some tried to stone him when he in effect claimed to be God. So then, he set aside his glory and lowered himself to become one of us. Simply by becoming man, he left his high place, and chose a very lowly place in order that we might be raised to the heights. Merely by becoming man, lowly man, Jesus showed how humble he was.
And then, even as man, Our Lord was of incomparably more worth than the most famed of men in whatever field we choose to think. Let us remember that when he was tempted in the desert by the devil, Satan offered him the kingdoms of the world if he would but worship him. Now, Satan would not have offered this were he not sure that Jesus had all the human qualities to be ruler of the kingdoms of the world. He could possibly sense that this man was going to be the ruler of all, in some sense or other. Yet our Lord chose to remain at the lowly level. Though he was God, he was born unknown in the world, and unacknowledged. He grew up in the most obscure situation. We remember how when Nathanael was told of our Lord and how he was the Messiah, he said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” There must have been something about the town of Nazareth and its reputation that gave rise to this remark. Our Lord, the Lord of lords and King of kings, chose to live for thirty years in obscurity, without honours, without position, and in a very lowly environment. He chose the path of lowliness because he himself was humble. He did not put on airs, cultivate an image, claim attention, honours or position.
Inasmuch as Our Lord was God himself, utterly sinless, utterly good without the slightest trace of moral imperfection of any kind, his human goodness must have been apparent. He must have been a wonderful child, a wonderful boy, a wonderful youth, a wonderful young man during those years at Nazareth - I mean wonderfully good in a moral sense. When our Lord presented himself to John the Baptist for baptism at the end of those years at Nazareth, John said to our Lord, “it is you who should be baptising me.” During his public life he challenged his enemies: “Can any or you accuse me of sin?”. No one could, nor could they have during his hidden years at Nazareth.
At the same time it is obvious that he was absolutely normal and thoroughly integrated into his family and community life and culture. He was very close to his family and community. Think of our Lord, growing up within the normal pattern of life at Nazareth, going to whatever schooling was available, attending synagogue with his parents, leaning from St Joseph his trade and profession, helping St Joseph in his work and in due course taking over the business. Consider our Lord within the Holy Family, each evening when they were together at the end of the day’s work. Think of him waking in the morning, spending time in prayer - perhaps during these years he acquired the practice of at times going out into the hills to pray, which marked his public ministry. Consider him having breakfast with St Joseph and Mary his mother and then beginning his work as a carpenter-builder. This was almighty God, on whom the entire universe constantly depended. This was God the Son, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit from all eternity, in his divine nature infinite in every respect, but choosing to take on and live by our lowly and limited human nature, in an obscure and lowly setting. It all manifests the humility of God. So humble was he that his divinity simply was not observed. No one knew he was God. Perhaps even Satan did not know. His moral goodness did not separate him from others - indeed when he came back after having begun his public ministry, his own people rejected his claims. As far as they were concerned, he was just the carpenter’s son. This surely tells us of our Lord’s constant humility and readiness to be in a lowly position. There was no pride in our Lord. In his public teaching, our Lord told his disciples that they were to come to him and learn, for he was meek and humble of heart. We must resolve to seek to be humble in heart like Christ.
The greatest demonstration of the humility of the Son of God was his acceptance of his Passion and Death. People often speak of how demeaning it is to be reduced to utter sickness and helplessness, such that one is entirely dependent on others. It is even more demeaning to be treated as being blameworthy and punished for something one has done. We have recently in the news seen corporate high-flyers sent to gaol for their commercial crimes. It is profoundly humiliating to them. Our Lord suffered terrible punishments that were appropriate for the worst of criminals, and put to death, though he was all-holy. In all of this he was expiating for our sins. His was the path unto death of lowliness, of humiliation, of being despised and rejected. His birth, his years at Nazareth, his public ministry, his passion and his death, were manifestations of humility, of the absence of all pride.
God is not arrogant and proud. He is meek and humble, and the human life of the Son of God shows this. He could have showed forth his glory and forced it on others, but he did not. So we ought not. When at the Last Supper he stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples, he finished by saying, “You call me Master and Lord, and you are right. If I then, the Lord and Master wash your feet, you ought do the same.” He tells us to learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. He makes it clear that the one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted. He came among us as one who serves, and the first among you, he says, must be the one who serves. Humility is what characterises Christ.
So then, if we want to be like Christ we should set out to be humble and to fight against our deep-seated tendency towards pride. Pride separates us from God. We cannot just take this matter for granted. We must recognise our pride and our tendency to grow more and more proud during life. It will be a great battle to become like Christ in this respect. The saints are humble. How then do we cultivate humility? First of all by trying in everything to be profoundly grateful. Be grateful to God for everything. Furthermore, one must be on guard against relying on our own strength in respect to the Christian life. We depend on God for everything, most especially for holiness of life. We must look to God for the power to do his will, and acknowledge our dependence on God for everything we need and for everything we have received and any good in us and for any good we have done. We must avoid taking undue credit, avoid seeking in subtle ways to win glory and acclaim from others. Ultimately it all comes from God and to him we must give the glory.
We ought be careful to accept legitimate authority and obey it, be it in civil affairs, our job, the life of the Church, our family, wherever. We ought shun jealousy. Importantly, if we are unavoidably humiliated, we ought accept that unavoidable humiliation especially if there is reason and truth in it. Of course we should vindicate our just rights and the real truth of the matter. But the spiritual masters teach that humiliations when accepted humbly lead to an advance in the virtue of humility. Our motivation in the acceptance of what is humiliating ought be to follow the humble Christ more closely.
The basic virtue of the Christian life is
We ought do all we can to lay that basis in our everyday life. If we do
not, we shall never put on the mind of Christ. Let this mind be in you
that was in Christ Jesus, St Paul writes. He is thinking of Christ’s
Humility is the work of a lifetime. If we work at it, we can hope to
put on the humble Christ, by the time we are called to him at death. So
let us set out to study and to know Christ in his humility and pray for
the grace to imitate him in the little things that make up life.