Humility and Obedience (2018)
Fr. Martin Fuchs´s sermon on 1st July 2018, Prague, Czechia
Sermon for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost
A pious virgin called Úrsula Benincasa once came to Rome believing that she had been sent by Jesus Christ in an ecstatic state to tell Pope Gregory XIII that he must have a greater zeal than he had previously shown for the reform of the Church. She frankly told the Pope, who was in Frascati, of the purpose of her coming.
The Pope received her, he was astonished but he did not reject her. He ordered the congregation of cardinals and other eminent men to investigate this case, especially the holiness of the woman.
The soul of this congregation, however, was – according to his will – Philipp Neri, who had the reputation to have a special gift of distinguishing the spirits.
How did Philipp start his exam? In the first session he used the hardest words for that woman sitting in the middle of the room. He called her – in front of all the cardinals and other priests – a haughty, arrogant, ignorant, enthusiastic and hypocritical woman.
“Is it possible“, he concluded, “that God should not have found a more worthy person than you, pitiful, miserable, and ignorant being to announce his will to the Pope?“ Úrsula quietly replied to all these reproaches: “I am exactly such as you have said, my reverend father, I am worth every punishment. Give me a remedy for my illness! It is my only desire to be healed.“
But this test was not enough for the saint. He let her being examined for the seven following months. He used censures, reproaches, insults and threats to find out what kind of virtues she had.
He had separated her from her relatives and she was taken to two of his spiritual daughters on whom he could rely. He forbade them to let Úrsula see other people. They should always and unceasingly occupy her with the most humiliating and most tedious domestic works. They should disturb her in her prayers. And in the end, he forbade her even to pray, to go to the Holy Mass, and to receive the Holy Communion.
Úrsula endured everything with incomparable patience and peace. When Philipp saw how she endured all this with patience, humility, and steadfastness, how she admired him as a saint despite all the harsh treatments, how obedient she complied all his will, and that even when he threatened her with the Inquisition, she humbly and devotedly answered: “Father, I am ready to be obedient even if I have to die.“, only then, he believed that her virtue and holiness was real and true.
When Church examines the sanctity of a charismatic person – the person who has the stigma, can look into the hearts, can produce miracles – she will be successful by the touchstones of humility and the obedience.
The very first sin of the angels happened out of pride and disobedience. And also the sin of Adam and Eve was a sin of pride and of disobedience. In these sins the devil can clearly be recognized.
Salvation therefore happened by the virtues of humility and obedience. That is why we can find this virtues in the life of the Savior, of the Mother of God, and of all the saints. These are the basic virtues of Christianity!
“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls“, said Our Lord. (Matthew 11:29)
“He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross“, saint Paul wrote to the Philippians (2:8).
Humility is the recognition of the order of God.
Obedience is the submission to the order of God.
A very good example of humility was given by Father Clemens Maria Hofbauer. When he went begging for the poor, he came into a tavern where a lot of men were sitting around the tables. He asked them to give something for the poor. One man spat in the face of the saint. Father Clemens Maria quietly cleaned his face and replied: “This was for me and now give me something for the poor.“ The man was so surprised that he gave all the money he had with him to the poor.
Unfortunately, many Catholics have no real idea of these two virtues. Many have no clear conception of the virtue of obedience. Some live in constant disobedience to the divine law (they live together without being married in Church, they recommend and make abortions, they never go to the church services on Sundays etc.) and some regard the virtue of obedience as an absolute virtue, e.g. they say that one must always obey without any exception.
Saint Thomas Aquinas says that the virtue of obedience is a relative virtue, a virtue that is always in a relation to something else. And this “something else“ is the Ten Commandments. If somebody orders something which contradicts the Ten Commandments, one must not obey. So parents are not allowed to keep children away from the Sunday service. They are not allowed to order their children to curse or to steal.
A test that can prove real obedience may therefore only contain something that is compatible with the Commandments of God.
Saint Rita was commanded in holy obedience to pour a scrawny stick. She did it. And behold! A rose bush sprouted.
Saint Nicolas, the patron of Switzerland, was commanded by the bishop of Constance to eat a little piece of bread – after years of living only from the Holy Communion. He obeyed but almost suffocated.
In the biography of Father Pio it is told that at the end of September 1925 the superiors had ordered him to keep his stigma covered. He was not allowed to show them to a doctor in order to examine them.
When Dr. Festa was in San Giovanni in the month of October, Father Pio told him: “I am seriously ill and I have been suffering from terrible pain for a long time. Please do me a favor and make an investigation.
Dr. Festa noted a large fracture with extensive adhesions and a peritonitis in the right groin. He immediately ordered a surgical procedure. An operating table was set up in the monastery because Father Pio was not allowed to leave the monastery. On the 5th of October, Father Pio got up for prayer at 03.30 am, held the High Mass at 06.00 a.m., was confessing until 09.00 a.m. and then he was operated, but without chloroform.
He wanted to be aware of what was happening. He suffered very much. After all he asked Dr. Festa: “Tell me, would you have examined my stigma, if I were unconscious by chloroform?“ Dr. Festa replied that he would have examined them. Father Pio had been operated without anesthesia to obey the command given by the superiors.
Let us learn from Jesus Christ the virtue of humility and obedience! Amen.