You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. (James 2:19)
Recently the Holy Father, Pope Francis, in a general audience wrote, “you may know the whole Bible, you may know all the liturgical rubrics, you may know all theology, but from this knowledge love is not automatic: loving has another path.”
This post isn’t going to be another admonition to good works – as important as that may be. I seek here to ask a deeper question and in asking it to probe into the heart of Pope Francis and the heart of anyone who seeks to be a disciple of the Lord.
In the quote above James warns against the view that knowledge alone or faith alone is enough for salvation – even the demons acknowledge God as one and indeed recognize Jesus as the Christ. What then, is the posture of salvation?
A central theme of the papacy of Pope Francis I would argue is that he is offering not a political corrective, a theological corrective, or even first a pastoral corrective. Instead he takes as deadly serious the admonitions in Sacred Scripture against pride, against the knowledge that would puff one up and set him against the love of God and neighbor. Pope Francis, over and over, in many different ways, is offering a reminder to the Christian that the posture of salvation is not self-aggrandizement, not self-justification, not belief in one’s superiority over others because of knowing the faith but instead it is humility, and humility alone. One simply cannot be a disciple of a saving God without operating from the awareness of one’s own poverty and need for mercy, for the grace of God.
We do well with our belief that God is one – yes, but not well enough. Salvation requires humility, the correct posture of the creature to his Creator. Humility is borne of a mix of suffering and grace, it is borne not in triumph but in failure, not in strength but in weakness, not in wealth but in poverty. How else can we understand the notion of a God who chooses the poor? The Gospel contradicts the logic of the World and the tendency of fallen man to take even what is precious – the gift of faith – and use it to oppose the mercy of God.
Indeed fallen man can take something as precious as the deposit of faith and use it as a tool for something alien to the Kingdom of Peace. Humility, then, is a fundamental truth that man must present in his entire being to his Creator. It is the posture whereby he recognizes and admits his total poverty and dependence upon the mercy of God that he may receive mercy as medicine for an otherwise incurable alienation and habit of rebellion.
And if you think you are not utterly and totally poor and in need of the mercy of God I suggest the practice of remembering the inescapable reality of death.
In case you would like to be assisted by St. Alphonsus de Liguori…