Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 23:1–12, in which Jesus warns against performing good works only to be seen and applauded by others. In fact, the psalms, other readings, and Magnificat’s meditation all revolve around warnings against pride. This is not the first time I’ve seen the introduction to the psalm chosen for Prayer for the Morning. I’ve read it often, written it down more than once, and am grateful for the reminder, for it seems I always need it:
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled. (Mt. 23:12)
Pride sets subtle snares. Whenever we imagine that we are in control of life—our own or someone else’s—we have fallen prey to the ancient whisper in the Garden: “You shall become like gods.” Mortality is the enduring reminder that we become like God not by our own power but by the power of the cross.
Today’s meditation goes even further. It was written by Servant of God Archbishop Luis María Martínez († 1956), who was Archbishop of Mexico City.
The spiritual life is indubitably a continual ascent, since perfection consists in union with God, and God stands above all creation. To arrive at God, we must ascend, but the paradox that I emphasize lies in this: that the secret of ascending is to descend. Saint Augustine, in his inimitable style, thus explains this paradox: “Consider, O brethren, this great marvel. God is on high: reach up to him, and he flees from you; lower yourself before him, and he comes down to you.” …
In the spiritual life, souls humble themselves with more or less effort, yet ever retaining the conviction that they must become little.
But when they descent to a certain depth, they become dismayed and grow weary of descending. It seems to them that they are being deceived and that the time has now come for them to ascend, because they are not aware that, in the way of spirituality, one ascends only by descending, and that, to arrive at the summit, the soul must never weary of going downward.
Let this “never” be well understood, for, just as in the beginnings of the purgative way, so also in the heights of the unitive, the one and only secret for ascending is to descend.
With the light of God, the soul makes steady progress in seeing its own misery and in sinking down into it; and with each new illumination, it seems that its eyes have arrived at the base of its nothingness. But our miserableness has no bottom, and only the grace of God can sound the profound depths of that abyss; for us, new revelations of our nothingness always remain, even though we may live a long time and receive torrents of light from God.
We can always descend lower. We can always sink deeper in our misery. And to the measure that we descend, we ascend, because thus we come nearer to God, for one can see God better from below, and thereby more sweetly enjoy his caresses and more intimately experience the charm of his divine presence.
The world is always telling us that we deserve to be happy, that we should not suffer, that the end of avoiding suffering makes any means licit. The ongoing battle is recognizing the lies and remembering the ultimate end.