“Fall at Holy Hill” by Jim Bauer/Flickr

4 Epiphany

Mic. 6:1-8Ps. 151 Cor. 1:18-31Matt. 5:1-12

A local Marian shrine, home to a community of Carmelite Monks, sits along the Scenic Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin, perched on the highest Moulin Kame in the region. The Moulin Kame is a canonical-shaped hill resulting from water and debris falling into a vertical melt hole in a glacial sheet covering the area 10,000 years ago. The shrine is called Holy Hill, which invites the Psalmist’s question, “Who may dwell on your holy hill?” (Ps. 15:1) The answer is, at first, obvious: the Carmelites and any pilgrim who cares to visit. Yet this sacred site is but one geological example of the mountain of God, a place set up high and close to the heavens. In a sense, the holy hill of God is wherever God is.

Who may dwell there? “Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from the heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their enemies” (Ps. 15:2-3). This short list of virtues, summarized in the word blameless, poses a troubling predicament. The holiness of God requires a perfection of which we sinners are demonstrably incapable. “There is none righteous [blameless], no, not one” (Rom. 3:10, KJV). “[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). “Man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil” (Article IX).

These few references do not deny, and should not deny, the beauty and goodness of creation and the wonder of the human creature set in the garden of God. There is so much to celebrate among the sons and daughters of God, creatures blessed with memory, reason, and skill, summoned to love and responsible dominion. “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). God is love and has created out of infinite love, prodigal in pouring forth goodness, truth, and beauty.

Still, no serious reading of the times can deny the “infectious sweetness” (Augustine) of evil that inclines people to their own destruction. With deep psychological insight, St. Augustine begins his life story with these words: “A human being, some part of your creation, wants to praise you; and yet the human person carries about his own mortality, and the testimony of his sin and the testimony that you resist the proud” (Et laudare te vult homo, aliqua portio creaturae tuae, et homo circumferens mortalitatem suam, circumferens testimonium paccati sui et testimonium, quia superbis resistis; Confessions, I). We should ask, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26), and feel the depth of the question.

To a similar question, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” St. Paul offers a confessional exclamation: “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 7:25). God has come to be among us in the birth and descent of his Son. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). The words in him suggest that the favor and grace present in Christ are imputed to and shared with those who are united to Christ. To reach us so that we might be in him, Christ travels downward to the foolish, the weak, the lowly and despised, things that are not (1 Cor. 1:27-28). He was born, lived, suffered, and was crucified in abject lowliness and abandonment. He became poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, persecuted, and reviled (Matt. 5:3-11), all to reach the ones he loves and to make them, in union with him, blameless.

Look It Up
Read Micah 6:4. Election and grace.

Think About It
Christ’s lowliness is the highest good.

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