Sunday, September 1, 2013

A Place at the Table: Humility in Equality

The man who would be known to history simply as “Saint Louis” was born in 1214 and became King of France in 1226, when he was only twelve years old. In 1234, he married Margaret of Provence and the couple eventually had eleven children. Known for his spirit of penance and prayer, Louis was mindful of both the temporal and spiritual needs of his family and his people. During his lifetime he was well acquainted with Saint Thomas Aquinas and other learned men of his day, and under his rule France experienced a cultural and spiritual renewal. Louis is also remembered for the construction of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris, which he built to house the relic of the Crown of Thorns. 

In 1248, and again in 1270, Louis joined in the Crusades to the Holy Land. It was during his second Crusade that Louis contracted dysentery, dying at Tunis on August 25, 1270, as he made his way to a battle. His relics were returned France and enshrined at Saint-Denis, where many miracles have been reported. Saint Louis was canonized in 1297 and is honored one of the patron saints of France. 
St. Louis of France serving the poor.
In a letter to his son and successor, Philip, Louis wrote, “If the Lord grant you some prosperity, not only must you humbly thank him but take care not to become worse by boasting or in any other way, make sure, that is, that you do not come into conflict with God or offend him with his own gifts.” Saint Louis understood, and lived, the admonition of Sirach: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God. What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength, search not” (3:18, 20). Whether through serving the more than one hundred poor people who ate at the royal palace each day with his own hands, by endowing churches, religious communities, and schools, or through his dedication to his family, Louis understood the true relationship of power and humility: “Those who are in a position to help others will realize they themselves receive help; being able to help others is no mere achievement on their own. This duty is a grace… We recognize that we are not acting on the basis of any superiority or greater personal efficiency, but because the Lord has graciously enabled us to do so” (Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, 35).  

It is God who governs the world and who grants peace, not us individually or as nations. We must, however, do all we can, with the strength we have, because “the love of Christ urges us on” (2 Corinthians 5:14). The war in Syria, violence in Egypt, human rights violations in Russia and Africa (to name only two places out of so many), and violence in our own cities, towns, and families are all reminders that much work remains to be done in the cause of justice and peace.  

And yet, those things for which we hope are attainable. The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged no message be further addressed to them” (12:18-19). Rather, God has called us, in Christ, to share in the life of the Trinity and to invite others into the life of grace that has been made present to us, in the Holy Spirit. Recognizing all of this as gift, we also understand, like Saint Louis, that true strength  and honor found in humility and true humility is to see the needs of others before our own, because their needs are as real and important as mine or yours. 

At the banquet of the Kingdom of God (cf. Luke 14:1, 7-14), we are all equals—each of us, in our own way is poor, crippled, lame, and blind—and it is only in celebrating our equality before God, that we will discover the foundations of peace and justice that are the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom, present here and now.   


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