Many of us have heard the phrase – but few of us probably know it was Spanish philosopher Gerorge Santayana who said: “Those who do not learn history — are doomed to repeat it.”
Since I was already making enough mistakes on my own during my teenage years – that gave me a good reason for learning history: so I could learn from other people’s mistakes before I made them on my own.
And then when I got to high school and my American History teacher, Mr. Sims, taught me that history is more than dates and places and events – but great stories – I was hooked on history.
Yes, history is all about great stories - of people, places and things – Like this one about Napoleon:
In the year 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte captured the city of Rome and took Pope Pius VI prisoner.
Napoleon thought he could intimidate the Pope and force him to become his puppet - because the Church had considerable political power at that time.
But Pope Pius refused to cooperate with Napoleon. So in a fit of anger, Napoleon shouted at the Pope: “if you do not do as I command, I will destroy the Church.”
The Pope replied - you can’t do that. And Napoleon said - just watch me - within a year the Catholic Church will be no more.
To which Pope Pius calmly replied: “If we, who are the Church, have in 1800 years, failed to destroy the Church by our sins – I doubt very much if you will succeed.”
Well, as we know by our presence here – the Church still exists - whereas Napoleon has passed on– as just another person in the pages of history.
One of the dangers of becoming mighty and powerful is that one also becomes proud and arrogant.
Power and might can become seen as a RIGHT – that is used to push and to pull in order to get what is wanted.
And usually the casualties are the lowly and the powerless and those who cannot defend themselves. They get swept aside to make way for those who think they are powerful and mighty.
But our first reading from Sirach told us: the greater you are, the more you should behave humbly – and then you will find favor with the Lord; for great though the power of God is – the Lord accepts the homage of the humble.
And then in the Gospel, Jesus told a parable when he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor. . .
The parable highlights the fact that our human desires go for the first place and not the last; our desire is for the lofty - not the lowly - we want the most - and not the least.
But the Lord looks on the lowly and God accepts the homage of the humble — and God fills the hungry with good things.
Yes, there is something that the lowly and humble can teach us about the ways of God – because it is to the lowly and humble that God showers down blessings.
It is also through the lowly and humble that God shows power and might – as this story may help us grasp. . .
A small mouse crept up to a sleeping lion that had just finished his meal. The mouse longed to have some of the scraps of the leftover meal.
“Since he’s sleeping,” thought the mouse, “he will never suspect I’m here.”
With that, the little mouse sneaked up and tried to pull off a scrap for its meal.
The lion awoke and quickly caught the mouse between its claws.
“Please,” said the mouse, “let me go and I promise I’ll come back and help you someday.”
The lion just laughed. “You are so small,” he said, “what could you ever do to help me?”
The lion laughed so hard he had to hold his belly at which point he let go of the mouse and the mouse ran away fast and far away.
The next day, two hunters came to the jungle. They went to the lion’s lair. They set a hugh rope snare. And when the lion came home that night, he stepped into the trap and was caught up in the ropes.
He tried with all his might but that just tightened the ropes – he could not get free. Frustrated he just roared and roared.
The mouse heard the roar and came to see what was going on.
Upon seeing the thick ropes that held the lion tight – he went to work nibbling at the rope until it broke.
The lion was freed and was able to shake off the ropes that held him tight. The lion now turned to his new best friend and said, “I was foolish to ridicule you for being so small. You not only helped me – you saved my life.”
Well, back to Napoleon. Toward the end of his life, he was exiled on the small rocky island of St. Helena. There, the former conqueror of Europe had time to reflect on his life – and even on the life of Christ.
After his reflections – He made the statement: “Other conquerors founded their empires by force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love and humility.”
Napoleon finally understood why he could not destroy the Church – his pride was no match for the love and humility of Christ– the foundation upon which the Church is built.
So as the Church, the members of the Body of Christ – we must remember what Sirach teaches us – be gentle in our living – and we will be better loved than a lavish giver.
For the power of love is seen in gentleness and humility. And to be gentle and humble is what the followers of Jesus Christ are called to be.
And it is only then – that the pride and arrogance of the world can be conquered.
Moments in time...