And He Humbled Himself

A few years ago I started a book writing project. I have about 3/4 of it written, but haven’t touched it for some time. I began it around the time when I started making the Advent and Lenten Lectio Divina Journals. I was feeling passionate about helping people encounter Scripture in easy and meaningful ways. I was also incorporating some simple Bible verse memorization in our homeschool day.

I decided to try to write something about a foundational piece of Scripture and attempt to incorporate all these ideas. It has Lectio Divina, some Scripture exegesis (the fancy word for exploration, analysis, and interpretation of Scripture), activities to help memorize the passage, space for reflection and follow-up discussion questions. The passage I chose was the Christ Hymn from Philippians 2:5-11.

While I don’t know if I’ll ever have this manuscript in a publishable state, I have been thinking about it lately and am dusting it off a little bit. Today is Good Friday, the day of days. Jesus, true God and true Man, offers Himself as the perfect and ultimate sacrifice so that we, His beloved creation, could once again be one with God. This passage beautifully sums up the mystery of Christ. I thought I’d offer my thoughts and research on the first verse, Philippians 2:8 here with you all (* indicate the citations listed at the bottom). I’d love to hear what you think, if you find it insightful or would be interested in hearing more.

We are living in a unique time in history. I hope that during this Great Lent (as some have been calling it) you have learned more about yourself and your relationship with God. As we look forward to Sunday, let’s remember that no matter what chaos rains down around us, we are an Easter people. Darkness and death, though deep and dark indeed, cannot shut out the light of Christ.

and he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross

Philippians 2:8

We will start, with a brief study of words. Paul opens this verse by focusing us on the word, “humbled” which he interestingly uses as a verb. This is the same Greek word, tapeinoó, Paul uses in the verses prior to the hymn (Phil 2:3-4). Here is the key which unlocks the first 4 verses of this hymn. Briefly, let’s recall what it means for Paul to be humble:

  1. Do nothing out of selfishness or a desire to further your own status
  2. Regard others as more important than yourself
  3. Do not look out for your own interests first
  4. Put the needs of others before your own

Paul explained to the Philippi community what humility is in theory, but here he illustrates in no uncertain terms exactly what humility is in flesh and blood. Humility is Jesus, who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, even though He was well within His right to demand it (1). Jesus emptied Himself (2), taking the form of a servant, the lowliest of the low (3). He became obedient (4) even to the point of death. Here we have on full display what it means to be humble. It is to be like Christ.*

Pope Benedict XVI compares Jesus to Adam when he states, 

Through the Cross of Christ man is redeemed and Adam’s experience is reversed. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God, claimed to be like God through his own effort, to put himself in God’s place and in this way lost the original dignity that had been given to him. Jesus, instead, was “in the form of God” but humbled himself, immersed himself in the human condition, in total faithfulness to the Father, in order to redeem the Adam who is in us and restore to man the dignity he had lost. The [Church] Fathers emphasize that he made himself obedient, restoring to human nature, through his own humanity and obedience, what had been lost through Adam’s disobedience.

Pope Benedict XVI. General Audience: Wednesday 27.

Origin, one of the Church Fathers, reflects on this verse in one of his Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. He states that Jesus’ obedience, even to death, was part of God’s gathering the whole world and all its inherent brokenness due to sin back under His authority.** Paul is expressing the mysterious reality that God descended into His creation. This hymn can be broken into two distinct sections: the descent (Phil 2:6-8) and the ascent(Phil 2:7-11). Here we reach the depths of the descent. St. Augustine pondered these crucial words in this way: “He ’emptied Himself,’ He ‘humbled himself.’ Though He was God, He appeared as man. He was despised as He walked on earth, He who made the heaven. He was despised as though a mere man, as though of no power. Yea, not despised only, but slain moreover.”***

The downward movement of Christ is reflected deeply upon by Henri Nouwen in his book The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. He challenges us to see the downward way the way of Christ. Humanity, in all our brokenness, needed a savior. How beautiful, how mysterious, that our God chose to enter into that brokenness, to descend down into its very core death itself, in order that we might be redeemed. Nouwen tells us, “The great mystery upon which our faith rests is that the One who is in no way like us, who cannot be compared with us, nor enter into competition with us, has come among us and taken on our mortal flesh.”**** Note the echoes of Paul’s definition of humility. Jesus doesn’t come to compete with us but serve us. He is God, powerful and mighty, yet he enters into creation as a tiny, helpless baby. 

And then to top it all off, Jesus dies. There can be no greater descent than this. Jesus, our Savior, is obedient to the Father, and offers Himself as ransom for us all. 

The spotless lamb, the blameless victim. The one true God who kneels at our feet, wishing to wash them clean allows Himself to be raised up on a cross for our salvation. Pope John Paul II quotes St. Ambrose at length, with words of such power and beauty I couldn’t hope to do them justice by paraphrasing. 

“Christ, hung on the tree of the Cross… was pierced by the lance, whereby blood and water flowed out, sweeter than any ointment, from the victim acceptable to God, spreading throughout the world the perfume of sanctification…. Thus, Jesus, pierced, spread the perfume of the forgiveness of sins and of redemption. Indeed, in becoming man from the Word which he was, he was very limited and became poor, though he was rich, so as to make us rich through his poverty (cf. II Cor 8: 9). He was powerful, yet he showed himself as deprived, so much so that Herod scorned and derided him; he could have shaken the earth, yet he remained attached to that tree; he closed the heavens in a grip of darkness, setting the world on the cross, but he had been put on the Cross; he bowed his head, yet the Word sprung forth; he was annihilated, nevertheless he filled everything. God descended, man ascended; the Word became flesh so that flesh could revindicate for itself the throne of the Word at God’s right hand; he was completely wounded, and yet from him the ointment flowed. He seemed unknown, yet God recognized him”

St. Ambrose. III, 8, Saemo IX, Milan-Rome 1987, pp. 131, 133 as quoted by Pope John Paul II. General Audience: Wednesday 19 November 2003. Vatican.

* Brant Pitre. Philippians 2. YouTube.

** Origin. Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7).

*** St. Augustine. Sermons on Selected Lessons, Sermon 42: Pt 2. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7).

**** Henri Nouwen. The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Life. (Maryknoll, Orbis Books. 2007). 38.

Daily Graces.

Season Your World

Season Your World. On Being the Salt of the Earth for Easter 2016. #DailyGraces

Happy Easter! Alleluia Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is alive!

So this might seem like a rather unorthodox Easter post, but I promise if you stick with me it will all come together in the end.

I’m a bit of a Food Network fan, especially the competition shows. I find it incredible how chefs are able to come up with such delicious, intricate dishes in minimal time and often with minimal or odd ingredients available them. It sounds like my kitchen at 5:15pm, though typically minus the “intricate dishes” part and sometimes the “delicious” part.

I was recently watching a show called “All-Star Academy” which involves home (not professional) cooks who are mentored by celebrity chefs through a series of challenges until there is a winner (There can only be one! – shout out to my husband who enjoys yelling that at the TV whenever the judges of any competition show say something along those lines, he’s a goof and I love him for it). One of the mentors this season is Andrew Zimmern from the Travel Channel show, Bizarre Foods. While his mentees were cooking, Andrew threw out this piece of advice:

Salt is for bringing out flavor. Pepper is for adding flavor.

I was struck by this simple, straightforward piece of cooking advice that I had never heard before. Starting from my first days cooking with my mom and grandma I was always told to make sure to “salt and pepper” (and usually garlic too, we are Italian to the core) whatever we were making. It’s so automatic that I had never thought about why these two ingredients were so essential so nearly every dish we created.

Based on Andrew’s one-liner, salt is not for adding flavor. That’s pepper’s job. Rather, salt is used to bring out and enhance the flavors already present in the ingredients. According to Michael Wignall, a Michelin star British chef, “It’s [salt] the basis for any great cooking,” he says, “you can have a great dish, but if you’ve not seasoned it, it’s just not there. Salt brings the best out of food and – regardless of whether people say it’s bad for you or not – the body needs salt to work properly.” Salt must be used properly in cooking. It’s not just to sprinkle on your plate tableside or to season meat before searing, never to be touched again. Different types of food will require salt at different times, but it sounds like nearly everything requires even just a touch of salt.

I like to think in an “if, then” pattern, it helps me to find the logical flow between ideas. So, in that model, here’s what we know.

  • If salt is missing,
  • Then, a dish is lacking.
  • If salt brings out the best when used appropriately,
  • Then we have to know how, when and where to use salt in a dish.

Transition now to me driving in the car the next day and while listening to the radio hearing this Gospel verse:

“You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?” (Matthew 5:13)

I was already thinking about how I use salt and pepper in my cooking and now God had layered into my thoughts the notion that we are salt in the world. This verse took on a whole new light. Actually, I had to completely re-think my understanding of it.

Prior to the revelation given by Andrew Zimmern, I had not thought about how salt functioned in my meals, just that I needed to use it. Salt isn’t necessarily supposed to add to the dish, instead it brings flavor out, enlivens, makes the best version of the dish.

Before understanding how salt works in food I don’t think I properly understood what Jesus meant when he said “You are the salt of the earth.” We aren’t necessarily bringing something new to the table. We aren’t a new flavor profile, we aren’t meant to “spice things up.” That’s not the purpose of salt. If we are the salt of the earth, then we are intended to bring out the best in the earth. We are to enliven the people we meet and help them become the best versions of themselves.

Let’s go back to those “If, Then” statements, but updated. Instead of “salt” we will say  “My witness.” “My witness” means specifically your faith, your personal witness to the mercy and love of Jesus working in your life. The “dish” is “my world”, meaning everyone and everything you come in contact with.

  • If my witness missing,
  • Then, my world is lacking.
  • If my witness brings out the best when used appropriately,
  • Then I have to know how, when and where to use my witness in my world.

Jesus doesn’t command us to be salt. He doesn’t ask us to be salt. Jesus tells us who we are: You are the salt of the earth. Our very identity is wrapped up in the mission of Jesus. Jesus sends us on mission to bring out the best in our world around us. We share our gifts and talents in order that others might come to know God better. We speak out when we see injustice and we actively work for the protection of the dignity of all people. We live each day in such a way that proclaims “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” even when the weather is crummy, we lost our temper with our kids, we had to wait in traffic or we received difficult news.

Season Your World. On Being the Salt of the Earth for Easter 2016. #DailyGracesIf we fail to live our life in this manner it is as if we have lost our saltiness. We aren’t bringing out the best in others or ourselves. We  aren’t helping the lost, comforting the sick or feeding the hungry. We are complaining, wallowing and despairing. Guess what – we all, and often do, fail.

Thank goodness this isn’t the end of the Gospel! Through the glorious resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate today, we are able to regain our saltiness. Jesus says that sin and death is not the end. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we are able to renew ourselves as the salt of the earth. Every time we receive the Eucharist we are renewed. Every time we go to the sacrament of Reconciliation we are cleansed. Every time we choose God instead of choosing despair we are refreshed. Every time we choose things that bring life instead of wallowing in the culture of death we are reborn. Every time we embrace the cross Jesus greets us with arms outstretched, welcoming us home.

Through the blood Jesus shed for our sake, the salt of the earth can regain its saltiness. Salty once more, we find ourselves able to bring the Good News of Jesus to all corners of our world.

May you each have a blessed Easter and feel God’s love surround you. I hope you find yourself salty this Easter season.





Divine Mercy Sunday

I know I should be posting Part II of my Lion King reflections (which by the way, since that first post I’ve heard the soundtrack about 15 times. It’s a miracle that I can sing any other song in my head at this moment). But I would be remiss to let this very special Sunday pass by without a few words of reflection.


The first Sunday following Easter is a unique Sunday celebrated by the Catholic Church called Divine Mercy Sunday. We are celebrating the incredible love and mercy that flows from Jesus, our savior. At Mass today we even had a large portrait of the image of Divine Mercy. John and Rosie were so intrigued by the change. They kept asking about the colors coming from Jesus. I loved watching them notice the change in our liturgical space. It means that they really are observing and starting to participate in the rituals, which is so incredible as a parent.

On the topic of parenting and mercy, what a huge job parents have. When you really stop to think, from the earliest of days a parent’s actions, words, tones, looks, etc., are all taken in by our children. Lessons of discipline, respect, obedience, trust, and honesty are all so important for the development of both the child and the parent. Mercy, however, may be one of the most important things that a parent can teach. We demonstrate mercy when we are compassionate. We teach mercy when we extend forgiveness. We live mercy when we do not let yesterday’s hurts shadow over today’s triumphs (or struggles, or joys, or hurts).

Pope Francis, our wise pope, has declared that starting in December this year, the Church is going to be celebrating a extraordinary Holy Year (usually these happen every 25 years, the last being in 2000, hence the “extraordinary”) of Mercy. This is going to be an incredible year. We all have a chance to make a difference, make a change, for mercy. Pope Francis says “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life…The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” One of the really cool things about our Church is that it sees families as the foundation, the building blocks of the whole Church. Families are called “domestic churches,” a microcosm of the global Church. If my family is a microcosm of the Church, then my family is called to have mercy at our cornerstone.

I hope to focus on learning about mercy and teaching/modeling mercy for our family. Keep up with Pope Francis if you can, he’s shaking things up all over the world.