St. Wolfgang of Regensburg (c. 924-994)
Wolfgang was born in Swabia, Germany, and was educated at a school located at the abbey of Reichenau. There he encountered Henry, a young noble who went on to become Archbishop of Trier. Meanwhile, Wolfgang remained in close contact with the archbishop, teaching in his cathedral school and supporting his efforts to reform the clergy. At the death of the archbishop, Wolfgang chose to become a Benedictine monk and moved to an abbey in Einsiedeln, now part of Switzerland. Ordained a priest, he was appointed director of the monastery school there. Later he was sent to Hungary as a missionary, though his zeal and good will yielded limited results. Emperor Otto II appointed him Bishop of Regensburg (near Munich). He immediately initiated reform of the clergy and of religious life, preaching with vigor and effectiveness and always demonstrating special concern for the poor. He wore the habit of a monk and lived an austere life.
The draw to monastic life never left him, including the desire for a life of solitude. At one point he left his diocese so that he could devote himself to prayer, but his responsibilities as bishop called him back. In 994 he became ill while on a journey; he died in Puppingen near Linz, Austria. His feast day is celebrated widely in much of central Europe. He was canonized in 1052.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke 14.7-11)
One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honour at the table, he told them this parable: When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Homily by Fr. E. J.Tyler)
In a certain sense, it is not difficult being religious. By that I mean that there is an instinctive tendency in the heart of man to seek the divine - often referred to as the numen by anthropologists and sociologists - and to strive to be pleasing to him. His displeasure is feared, and his favour is sought by observance of the rites and by behaviour that is understood to be required by him. So widespread is the evidence of this in human societies that many have chosen to regard man as a religious animal. The hypothesis of evolution would presumably regard religious practice as a distinctive marker of the appearance of man in the process. Once human societies appear in archaeological, literary or other indicators, so do religious rites. The people’s myths are populated by their deities. In this sense, the revealed religion of Abraham, Moses and the prophets was, in the best sense of the word, profoundly natural, while in its doctrine and central rites being divinely revealed. It fulfilled man’s natural tendencies and yearnings while actually excelling them. There is this to be noticed, though. While religion tends to pervade man’s culture and society because it is so natural to him (excepting modern secular cultures), at the same time there tends to be a divorce between religious practice and man’s best moral instincts. In practising his religion man tends to remain proud, selfish, lazy. Indeed, his religion can very easily become a channel for these immoral tendencies to gain expression. In indigenous societies religious leaders and certain groups can impose their power through the religion, as can be the tendency in any society. That is to say, the core of man’s heart - his will - can become and remain irreligious in the midst of all his religious practice. Secretly he can be worshipping himself while sacrificing to the gods. This brings us to our Gospel passage today, which places us once again in the scene of the chasm between our Lord and many religious professionals of the chosen people of God. They professed to practice revealed religion, but their hearts were far from being pleasing to God.
Our Lord has been invited to the house of a leading Pharisee. Others of his party and experts in the law have also been invited, and they are observing our Lord narrowly. It is the Sabbath day, and before their eyes he has healed someone of their affliction - thus calmly flouting yet another of their fussy and burdensome impositions. As was often the case, they had been unable to answer his logic. But our Lord then proceeds to expose the moral decay he sees active in them even during the meal. Their religion is largely a means of self-aggrandisement. They wish for the honourable places in the estimation of men. They are not aware of the cancer that is at work in every heart, the cancer of pride and vanity, a spiritual disease that must be identified and attacked. Our Lord, seeing everything and being far more astute than any of those who were crouching to pounce, observed the other guests picking the places of honour at table. Silently, deftly, subtly, each was trying to manoeuvre himself into a position of special respectability. Our Lord had the attention of all, for all were watching him. Do not be vain, he told them. The atmosphere here is one of self-seeking, the seeking of human honours and not the seeking of what was pleasing to God. Perhaps our Lord noticed that this had caused a complication for those managing the dinner. This or that guest had to be asked to move to another position at the table. Rather, our Lord said, abase yourselves before God and be content with whatever place turns out to be yours. Look at what happens even from a human point of view. “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honour, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honoured in the presence of all your fellow guests” (Luke 14: 1, 7-11).
Our Lord is saying that religion must be a religion of the heart. The worship of God and the exalting of his person must not be merely a matter of external appearances and objective ritual. It must mark the action of the secret heart of man. In his heart man must seek the lower place before God and others, and in this way serve to glorify and honour God. Seek the lower place, and God will in due course exalt you - when, how and in what sense, we must leave to him. Our example in this, as in everything, is Jesus Christ himself. He humbled himself and was exalted above every other name. Let us then follow in his footsteps of humility of heart and life!