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. https://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/audiences/2012/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20120627.html

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. https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/audiences/2003/documents/hf_jp-ii_aud_20031119.html

* Brant Pitre. Philippians 2. YouTube.

** Origin. Commentary on the Gospel of John: Pt 379. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). http://kenosis.info/ANF-10A.html.

*** St. Augustine. Sermons on Selected Lessons, Sermon 42: Pt 2. Kenosis: Christ “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7).  http://kenosis.info/NPN1-06E.htm

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

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

The Pearl of Great Price

Jesus told a parable about a merchant who found a pearl of great price. Overjoyed at this discovery, he sells all that he has in order to acquire it. This parable, and others similar to it, are part of a series of teachings about the Kingdom of Heaven. Even one small glimpse is worth sacrificing everything we have.

We are living in a turbulent time. In the midst of school suspensions, sporting events cancelled and family members in various stages of quarantine, it can be challenging to know where to turn next. These sacrifices we are making as a society weren’t voted on, and in most cases our opinion wasn’t sought out. And yet, the gift of sacrifice is waiting for us to make good use of it.

In the Christian tradition, the act of sacrifice is an act of life and love. Jesus Christ’s paramount example of selfless sacrifice on the cross is how God saves us from our sins and opens the gates of Heaven. We are called to participate in that same act when we offer our smaller, daily sacrifices with love for the good of others. Before a few weeks ago, these sacrifices might have included letting someone go before us, listening to a friend’s concerns for longer than we had anticipated, making someone else’s favorite meal instead of your own, etc.

Today, our sacrifices have gotten much larger. They now range to staying home from work, creatively stretching a bag of beans into multiple meals, monitoring toilet paper usage, cancelling our own events and celebrations, handling our children’s disappointment when their activities are cancelled and learning how to “do school” from home.

I think no matter what our situation, the biggest sacrifice we are being asked to make is one of time. Time is a tricky thing. There never seems to be enough, and at the same time (hehe, see what I did there?), we struggle when there is an abundance of it. We are each facing a unique situation which presents an undetermined amount of time that must be spent at home. When, in recent memory, have you been actually required to stay home? The last time you were grounded perhaps?

What an incredible gift this could turn out to be! What a pearl of great price to acquire! There are so many thing you could get done! In fact, I would challenge you to make a list, right now, of all the things you’ve been meaning to do and haven’t had or wanted to find time for. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Finished? Did you remember to switch out your winter and spring wardrobe? How about paint the back bedroom? Or finally organize the closet in your son or daughter’s room? Don’t forget scrubbing the crayon off the wall by your toddler’s crib from who knows how long ago (just me?).

Now, if you’re like me, you probably just got overwhelmed by all the “things” that need to get done. You’re list, though full of great tasks, is missing a critical element. The people who you will be spending this unstructured time with are more important than any to-do list. The people, be they big or small, young or old, are waiting for you to be present with them. They are waiting for your gift of time.

You have time to talk to your grandma on the phone for as long as you and she like. You have time to write the thank you notes from Christmas or a birthday. You have time to make home-made play dough, and then actually play with your kids with it. You have time to read that book, “Just one more time, please!” You have time to say a whole rosary, maybe even uninterrupted if you wake up early enough. You have time to teach your son or daughter to sew, whittle, crochet, garden, mow the lawn, clean the bathroom properly, take your pick! You have time to bake cookies (and then probably put them in the freezer), to celebrate a friend’s birthday after we all get to congregate more than 6ft from one another.

So step back and take another look at your list. Take a moment and close your eyes. The sacrifice of staying home could bring your family a pearl of great value. How do you hope to strengthen your relationships with the people in your home, family and community during this period at home? Pick one or two things that at the end of all this, you want to look back and say, “Wow, that was awesome. Without this concentrated time we never would have done x, or y, what a gift this time turned out to be.”

It’s not going to be easy. I’m not saying that every single moment of this time needs to be spent in togetherness. Be sure to carve out time for yourself, your own growth and mental health. Go for that run, read that book, swing on the swing, make a home altar and spend a period of time each day in silence. Whatever it is, your time together will be all the more fruitful if you are also taking the time to care for your wellbeing.

These sacrifices are challenging indeed. But as we go forward into this unknown territory, the landscape does not need to be as daunting as some might make it out to be. The light shines a bit brighter when we embrace our sacrifices and and discover the pearls God is waiting to shower upon us.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

Advent is Waiting

This phrase makes me think of the animated movie Atlantis. In order to convince Milo, the scrawny bookworm to take the plunge and go on an expedition to discover the lost city, the financial backer Preston Whitmore says to him, “Atlantis is waiting.” This phrase always gets me, the excitement and anticipation. I wish someone would come around to each of us before a big decision and whisper with that same enthusiasm, “_____ is waiting.”

Friends, Advent is waiting. It’s only a few days away. Are you ready? Am I ready? It’s too bad we don’t have a Preston Whitmore who organizes our whole life ahead of our decisions so that the answer is obvious. What we can do, however, is take these opportunities the Church regularly builds into the liturgical year. Advent is the perfect time to step back, slow down and build momentum in our spiritual life.

This year’s Advent Journals are officially here! There are two different journals, both in pdf format. One narrows your focus to the 4 Sundays of Advent. Each day of the week you read one of the readings, and at the end of the week there are a few reflections. On Fridays, I’ve offered a few key themes and images found in the readings and expanded on their importance. On Saturday, inspired by the overall themes of the Sunday, there is a reflection on one of the aspects of Jesus. The Homily Notes space from last year is still there and can be used for additional note taking. Also, and this is so exciting, I figured out the booklet printing issue from last year so there are 2 versions of this journal, one in Booklet Format and one that is A5 size. If you print the A5 size at home you will need to cut the pages down after printing. If you choose the booklet be sure you select “booklet” or “book fold” in your printer’s settings.

Keep in mind that this journal is preparing for the upcoming Sunday of Advent, so it starts this coming Monday Nov. 25!

The second journal is a repeat from last year. I love using Lectio Divina for Advent. I’ve updated the dates and Scripture verses but the rest of the journal is much the same from last year. The last page is still blank if you would rather select your own Scripture verses. I did not do a booklet format for this journal because of all the writing space so there is only one version of the Lectio journal.

Remember, these journals are totally FREE for you to print, so you can grab both and see which works best for you. Or maybe you will find both inspirational. I’d love to hear which you chose and why. Feel free to share this post with anyone and everyone. It is my Advent gift to all of you.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com