GOSPEL COMMENTARY MT 6:24-34
Some years ago, a Marymount student was in a rather difficult quandary. He had not practiced his faith much in high school. However, the Lord began to tug on his heart during the first few years of college. He came on a few retreats, spent a week of spring break offering to serve the poor and started to participate in a regular bible study. He was gradually growing in his love for the Lord, but, at the same time, he was hanging out in the evenings with a crowd of students that was regularly abusing alcohol and drugs and strongly encouraging an active sexual life. This double life began to really eat away at the conscience of the student. As he drew closer to Christ, He was bringing a new and exciting sense of peace, joy and meaning to his life. On the other hand, the night life began to lose its attraction, left him feeling empty, and was becoming an obstacle to further growth in his relationship with Christ.
In the end, the student made a series of sound, but hard decisions. He shared with his closer friends in the crowd this growing interest in his Christian faith. He gradually and definitively made the decision to stop going out in the evenings with those friends when they were engaging in the usual activities. He tried to keep up a level of friendship with some of them by getting together for healthier activities such as meals and watching movies. He consciously began to spend time with other friends who shared his faith and his Christian values. It was a hard decision, but one that brought peace and a much more meaningful life.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus makes the bold statement to His disciples, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”
If we serve two masters, we can’t get far down the path of faith; we can’t grow in our love for God and remain stuck in a life of mortal sin. The two can’t go together for an extended period of time. We will either make the decision to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Lord and His Gospel or we will abandon our walk with God. We can’t live for any serious duration with that level of tension in our souls.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, in his famous retreat, the Spiritual Exercises, offers a meditation on the three degrees of humility. The meditation is shocking to our modern sensibilities because it is a demanding invitation to put God first in our everyday lives.
The first kind of humility, according to St. Ignatius, is necessary for eternal salvation. “I so lower and humble myself, as much as is possible to me, that in everything I obey the law of God, so that … I would not be in deliberation about breaking a Commandment, whether Divine or human, which binds me under mortal sin” (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, David L. Fleming, SJ, p. 165). In other words, I live my life so as to never consciously choose to commit a mortal sin.
The second kind of humility is more perfect than the first. “I find myself at such a stage that I do not want, and feel no inclination to have, riches rather than poverty, to want honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long rather than a short life — the service of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul being equal; and so not for all creation, nor because they would take away my life, would I be in deliberation about committing a venial sin” (Ibid, p. 166). In other words, I desire to follow God and His will so dearly, that I do not want to turn away from God even in the smallest of ways. I do not even want to commit a venial sin.
The third kind of humility is the most perfect humility. “… when — including the first and second, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equal — in order to imitate and be more actually like Christ our Lord, I want and choose poverty with Christ poor rather than riches, opprobrium with Christ replete with it rather than honors; and to desire to be rated as worthless and a fool for Christ, Who first was held as such, rather than wise or prudent in this world” (Ibid., p. 167). My love for Christ is so strong that I want to be right there with Him in His poverty, insults and revilement. I prefer those things over being esteemed as wise or prudent by the world. This, indeed, is a most radical form of Christ-inspired humility.
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.”
Fr. Peterson is assistant chaplain at Marymount University in Arlington.