Gloria in Profundis: The Unspeakable Humility of God

The scriptural readings from last Sunday’s Mass focused on humility as a centerpiece of the spiritual life and unveiled for us some of the ways that pride still reigns in our hearts and in our world. If pride and its outgrowths dominate the landscape of human history, there is a noteworthy turning of the tide in the absolutely unique grace received by the one conceived immaculately and subsequently called ‘full of grace’ by the Archangel Gabriel. Mary referred to  herself as the ‘handmaiden of the Lord’ but even more, she lived up to that beautiful title in service of the Father’s Divine Will.

Although we don’t commemorate it liturgically because it falls on a Sunday this year, September 8th is Our Lady’s Birthday. Her coming into the world and her birth to her humble grandparents Anne and Joachim hearkens in a new way of understanding who God is and who the human person is called to be. Among her countless titles, Our Lady of Humility is one that is especially dear to me because of her image which hung just outside the seminary chapel in Rome where I lived and prayed for five years. As I reflect on the gift that Mary is for us as believers, I am drawn to ponder how she is an embodiment of humility and a living invitation for us to ‘aspire’ after humility. But more than a lesson in herself, her role in salvation history gives God an opportunity and context to demonstrate His unspeakable humility by choosing to take flesh and come into the world through her. Christ’s humility to the point of taking up the Cross is only the culmination of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity’s awe-inspiring humility that led to the divine plan of the Incarnation as a means to reconcile sinful humanity back to the Father.

The Angelus prayer relives the story of the Lord’s gentle appeal to Mary through the message of St. Gabriel and her humble response that makes possible the divine condescension of the Incarnation. The Angelus is truly one of the great prayers of our tradition. I encourage you to make it your own. The text of the Angelus is found on the back cover of the Pew Missal resource. Pray it asking for humility.

I leave you with a poem of GK Chesterton which expresses the staggering self-emptying of God in the Christmas mystery. Ever fascinated with paradoxes, Chesterton titled the poem “Gloria in Profundis” or “Glory to God in the Lowest” as a play on the Gloria in Excelsis Deo sung at every festive Mass. Mary’s humility meets God’s humility in His proposal and her yes: “and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us!”

Here is the poem “Gloria in Profundis” which I hope may speak to some of you differently than prose:

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

Our God’s humility is unspeakable. If you’re looking to sustain your pondering on the mystery of Mary’s embodiment of humility, read and pray with Psalm 131 as well and think about the humility of our God to place Himself into the arms of a creature. How are we called to imitate our God in humility? How does Mary show us the way? I encourage you to re-read the First Reading from today’s Mass from Wisdom 9:13-18 and reflect on the way that Mary is a fulfilment of this passage. Human salvation does not consist in building a tower as was tried at Babel, but rather in God’s descending among us in His embrace of our humanity so that He may be lifted up on the Cross to draw all people to Himself. There is much to ponder here.

 

+ This coming weekend is SeptemberFest: September 13 – 14 – 15. Don’t miss it! This annual parish celebration, which is our largest fundraising and neighborhood outreach of the year, coincides with our titular feast day, the Triumph of the Holy Cross, celebrated each year on September 14! We will transfer the liturgical feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to all of our weekend Masses, as we have in past years. We will do the same as our other parish patronal feast days come along for St. Hedwig, St. Clement and St. Anthony of Padua in October, November and June respectively. Hats off to our co-chairs, Kathleen Gorzycki and Jerry Weller, our festival organizers and the countless volunteers who are working tirelessly to make it a truly great weekend!

+ The school year for St. John Paul II Catholic Preparatory School is off to a good start! Our Polish Saturday School also began this weekend. To all of our students, teachers, staff and families, welcome back and we pray that it is a blessed year of growth.

+ Andrew Whaley will lead brief conversations over coffee in Kolbe Hall after the 9:30 am Holy Cross Mass and in the St. Clement Hall after the 11 am Mass this Sunday. In light of preparing for SeptemberFest he will focus on a timely theme: “Here Comes Everybody: How to Welcome the Stranger”. Come linger after Mass and join the conversation.

 

May the humility of Christ and Mary draw our hearts to embrace humility,

Fr. Howe