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I Believe in Jesus Christ,
the Only Son of God, Our Lord

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

The second article of the Apostles’ Creed is the foundation of our Christian faith. It is at once a profession of our belief that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ and that the Incarnate God is the Lord, who is the Master of our eternal destiny.

Who, then, is Jesus Christ? He is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, whom the Father sent into the world to save the human race from sin. Having lost the friendship of God by sin, mankind could not regain this life of grace any more than a man who is dead can bring himself to life again.

Throughout the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus professed His divinity. So true was this that it was the main ground for His condemnation to death. Caiphas the high priest questioned Jesus about His claims to divinity, “I put you on oath, by the living God, to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus answered, “The words are your own” (Mt 26:62-66).

However, it was the apostle John who was the most emphatic in portraying Christ as, at once, true man and true God.

Defending Christ’s humanity, John was refuting the Docetae, who disclaimed the Incarnation on the premise that since matter was evil, God could not have become man.

St. John is explicit about Christ’s oneness with the Father and His divine nature. As a result, many so-called biblical scholars are reduced to dismissing John’s writings as pious exaggerations superimposed on the simple message of the Synoptics.

One episode in the fourth Gospel illustrates this principle. Jesus had just affirmed His oneness with God the Father, and His unbelieving listeners reacted immediately. Says the evangelist, “The Jews fetched stones to stone Him, so Jesus said to them, ‘I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?’ The Jews answered Him, ‘We are not stoning you for doing a good work, but for blasphemy; you are only a man, and you claim to be God’ (Jn 10:24-33).

As we move from the biblical record to the Church’s infallible teaching, the defense of Christ’s divinity becomes the cornerstone of Catholic doctrine. The first six ecumenical councils concentrated on defending Christ’s true divinity united with His true humanity.

By the year 451 AD, the Council of Chalcedon drafted what has since come to be the final classic expression of faith on the person of Christ. It affirmed all the doctrinal definitions of the Catholic faith on what we believe about the Incarnate God.

  • We believe that Christ assumed a real human body. We believe that He assumed not only a body, but also a rational soul. He therefore has a divine and human mind, a divine and human will.

  • We believe that the two natures in Christ are united to form one individual. Christ is one person, the second person of the Trinity.

  • We believe that in Christ, each of the two natures remains unimpaired. They are not confused or changed in their respective properties; nor are they divided or separated, as though merely existing side by side. We believe that in becoming man, Christ was and remains true God, one in nature with the Father.

  • We believe that even as man, Christ is absolutely sinless. He not only did not sin, but He could not sin because He was God.

  • We believe that since Christ is one person, whatever He did (or does) was (and is) done simultaneously by both natures, although in different ways. This applies not only to what Jesus was and did in first century Palestine. It applies also to what He is and does in the twentieth century by His presence in the Holy Eucharist.

The Incarnation as the Humiliation of God

From now on, our focus in this conference will be on how we are to put into practice the mystery of our faith in the Incarnation. Our plan is to cover the following aspects of an oceanic subject: the Incarnation as the humiliation of God, the humility of Christ Himself which He practiced during His visible stay on earth, Christ’s teaching on the virtue and practice of humility, and finally, on what is our responsibility.

Why is the Incarnation the humiliation of God? Because whatever else humility is, it is most certainly self-abasement, a lowering of oneself. Humilis in Latin is the adjective corresponding to humus, “black dirt.” With the dawn of Christianity, all the words of the pagan Roman vocabulary changed their meaning.

St. Paul told the Philippians of his day, and is telling the Philippians of all times, that the most difficult virtue for a human being to practice is humility. Consequently, in the first century as in the twentieth century, the followers of Christ must be powerfully motivated to practice humility. The deepest motive that St. Paul, under divine inspiration, could give us is the fact that God became man. He humbled Himself so that we proud creatures of flesh might be humble. We are not naturally humble. And the primary grace we need to even become humble, let alone grow in humility, is grace in the mind. We must see more clearly and more deeply what we already believe: that the Incarnation was God humiliating Himself, so that like Him, we too might be humble.

As far as God could, He emptied Himself of all the glory that He had a title to. He could not have become less than a human being. The lowest rank of creature that God could become identified with was a man. By His Incarnation, God humbled Himself to the limits of divine ingenuity.

What a lesson for us! Where would you find a person, I don’t say who accepts all the humiliation that comes into his life, but goes beyond that in even wondering, “How can I become more humble?” What is the most humiliating thing that God could do to me?” The most humiliating thing that God Himself could do was to become one of His creatures, and not even an angel, but only a speechless Child.

The Humility of Christ

Everything in Christ’s earthly life, from conception to the grave, everything was a manifestation of that mysterious attribute of God: His humility. We do not even need to be literate to be able to understand this kind of humility. He came into the world as a helpless infant. And this is the almighty Word of God, by whom the world came into being. He hid what He had and who He was. For nine months He was hidden in His mother’s womb. For thirty years He lived, as faith tells us, in total obscurity. Then, in His public life, from the moment He began to preach and proclaim the Gospel, He was not accepted, even by His fellow Nazarenes. Remember? Small wonder that He had so few true followers.

The modern world tells us if you want people to appreciate you, if you want them to recognize you, the last thing you want to do is to go into hiding, and the last thing you tell people to do is what they don’t like to do. That is the central theme of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book has sold millions of copies. We almost want to say that Christ found a way of making enemies and angering people, and He did so by the simple, expedient of being Himself and telling people the truth. If you want a lot of friends, do not tell them the truth.

Jesus taught the apostles, His chosen followers, far into the night. What happened? They just did not get it. I can speak from experience; the most humiliating thing for a teacher is to see that His students do not grasp what he is trying to tell them.

Christ experienced opposition on all sides. What a contrast in the six days from Palm Sunday to Good Friday! “Hosanna, hosanna,” the crowd shouted on Palm Sunday, and on Good Friday: “Crucify Him!” One thing that Christ teaches us is the fickleness of human praise. Christ was betrayed by one of His own followers, scourged and crowned with thorns. Why did He allow it? Because He is God. He wanted to make sure that we understand what it means not only to reluctantly accept humiliation, but seek humiliation, sincerely welcome it when it comes.

Christ's Teaching of Humility

Christ taught first of all by example. Remember when John the Baptist remonstrated with the Master on the shore of the Jordan? John couldn’t bring himself to do it. “Look, I should be baptized by you,” in effect telling Christ, “Please get out of the water.” And Jesus told him, “No, that’s the way it must be; that’s the way the prophecies about me are to be fulfilled.”

He is to be a suffering servant. We see His long years of subjection to two of His own creatures, Mary and Joseph, holy people; but they were creatures.

And then there is that unforgettable scene at the Last Supper. Just before He was going to undergo His passion, the one thing Christ made absolutely sure, the last lesson He would teach His apostles was a lesson in humility. He took a pan of water and a towel and started with Peter. Said Peter, “Not me, Lord; that’s beneath you.” “But, Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, you cannot be my disciple.” “Oh, all right, wash them.”

Christ taught us humility by His words: “Take up My yoke upon you and learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). To follow Christ, to carry His yoke, to be His disciples, there is no choice. Either we are going to be humble as His disciples, or no matter what vesture we may have around us, no matter what name people may give us, we are only as true followers of Christ as we are humble. Then he gives His promise: “and you shall find rest for your souls.”

He is not only talking about that final eternal rest to which we all aspire. I have yet to meet a proud tranquil person. Proud people are worried; proud people are disturbed; proud people are restless. What a task we have to examine our lives and to ask ourselves: “How truly am I a follower of Christ, judging by my preoccupation with so many things? How little it takes to disturb me.”

“Whosoever will be greater among you, let Him be your servants; even as the Son of Man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life as a redemption for many” (Mk 43:45).

Christ practiced superhuman humility in order to teach us that if we are going to grow in virtue, we must start with humility. There is no virtue which is not weakened, which is not diseased, which is not infected, unless that virtue is possessed in humility.

“I am in the midst of you as He that serves” (Lk 22:25). Human beings do not like to be beholden or dependent on anyone. As all parents know, a child of three years can have a stubborn will! We don’t have to learn pride, we are born with it. It is humility that we have to keep learning and relearning. And the great teacher and master of humility is God become Man.

“You call me Master and Lord; and you say well, for so I am. If I then being your Lord and Master have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, you do also” (Jn 13:13-15).

May I suggest that at least once a day you recall what Christ told His disciples and is telling us every day. “Whose feet, practically speaking, have I washed today? Before whom have I allowed myself to be humiliated or lowered in that person’s estimation?

Our Responsibility

The foundation for the following of Christ on its moral side is not only the practice of humility, but growth in humility. Jesus Christ is our model and inspiration for both the practice of humility and growth in this virtue. He is also the source of grace that we need to be able to become humble.

The great St. Theresa of Avila defined humility as the truth. There are two parts of this reflection on the meaning of humility as truth. On the one hand, humility does not overreach itself. Humility is the true estimate I have of myself, recognizing who I am, and not making claims or boasts for what I do not possess. Unlike us, Christ could not overreach Himself.

When is humility truth? When we think and act like we really are, and we do not have any higher estimation of who we are or what we can do than really and truly is the case. To remain and grow in humility in following Christ, we must keep reminding ourselves of who we are: we are creatures. God the Creator became one of His own creatures in order to protect us from the folly of thinking more of ourselves than we really are. We are, except for God, absolutely nothing.

Even as Christ revealed His own dependence on the heavenly Father, He showed dependence on Mary and Joseph, and dependence on the cruel Jewish Sanhedrin, who finally brought Him to His death.

I strongly recommend that you decide on what ways you can daily protect yourself from your pride. We are all naturally proud. And the only way known to God and to man for lessening our pride is to walk the hard, rough road of humiliation. Welcome the humiliations in your life; cherish them; thank God for receiving them. Remember, the royal road of humility is paved with the sharp stones of humiliations. We don’t have to go around asking people: “I need more humility, would you mind humiliating me? They may say, “You idiot!” And we should say, “Thanks.”

That is the first meaning of our humility in the following of Christ, in not overestimating, or overreaching ourselves. But there is another side to humility. Here again, the Son of God in human form is our perfect model to imitate. Humility also means that we do not under reach ourselves. Whatever we are, everything we have is a merciful gift from God. We were nothing, but we are not nothing now. We are children of God; we are loved by God; we possess graces and gifts, talents and abilities that God wants us to put into constant practice.

The hardest thing for many people is to balance these two forms of humility. Some people have almost an instinctive problem with the first kind of humility. They do not have much, but this does not protect them from finding something in themselves to be proud of.

Other people, however, do not under reach themselves with the gifts that God has given them. And we may be such persons. God never gives us anything to be stared at or hugged for ourselves. We are to be channels of grace for others. We may be gifted people who do not put to use the gifts which God has given us, always for His greater glory and correspondingly, for the good of souls.

St. Bernard relates how on one occasion he was to speak to thousands of people. As he walked up to the pulpit he said to himself: “Bernard, get down. You are going to preach this sermon so that people will say how eloquent Bernard is. For a moment, he hesitated, then he told the devil, “You liar. I did not prepare to speak for my own glory, and I will not be silent because you tell me I am proud of what people will think of me as an eloquent orator.”

The more gifted we are, the more talents and graces God has given us, let us not do what the man in the parable did. He hid the one talent he possessed. Gifted people have to work harder, much harder, to remain humble than those who are less talented than they.

Christ, the living God, is our perfect model for the imitation that we need to practice the humility that God became Man mainly to teach us. God abased Himself to the limit, to teach us, proud creatures, the meaning of humility. But Christ never allowed anyone to doubt who He was, and what He should do. He did the will of His Father, was faithful to what the Father wanted, even though it meant working astounding miracles.

The Litany of Humility was composed by the private Secretary of St. Pius X, Cardinal Merry del Val. Anyone who knows the history of Pius X will appreciate the depth of meaning and the ocean of grace that his secretary obtained for himself and for the Vicar of Christ by living up to the invocations of this litany which he composed.

Lord Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Jesus
That others may be loved more than I, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

Copyright © 1997 by Inter Mirifica

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