Keys are an important image used in the Bible. Keys, such as those given by Jesus to Peter, on the Old Testament occasion of Yom Kippur for his role in the New Covenant binding and loosing sins, are important symbols. Even Peter’s name (Kephas), is an alliteration of the Kiphas, the stone box in which the Keys of the Temple were kept. There’s a lot of meaning packed into those simple keys in Matthew 16:18. Keys were important symbols of the Steward of the Davidic Kingdom as a sign of authority (Isaiah 22:22), and to the High Priest of the temple who used his keys for opening up the doors so people could enter. Jesus took it even further by drawing a parallel of Simon bar Jonah to Simon bar Onias (Sirach 50). Keys are symbols often loaded with meaning. (See Keys to the Kingdom: A Tool’s Witness to the Truth, Stanley Jaki).
Keys open doors. Keys open eyes. Keys open hearts.
As a revert Catholic Christian, I often reflect upon what keys God used to open my eyes more fully and attune me more to His Holy Will. And as an evangelist I wonder what keys will the Holy Spirit turn in the hearts I encounter, to bring them to the Fullness of Truth in the Catholic Church. I am not a great theologian by any means, but my common sense tells me that the answer probably lies in the virtues, which seem to lie at the intersection of God’s grace and human free will.
When asked what the three most important virtues were, St. Bernard of Clairveaux put it succinctly, “Humility, humility, humility.”
Humility Is the Key
Humility in particular seems to be the key to understanding the success of most, if not all of the Saints. Inversely, lack of humility – or the deadly sin of Pride – seems to be the lock that binds our chains and makes us slaves, starting with the declaration of Satan, “Non serviam,” I will not serve.
Looking back, I remember the moment standing outside the Confessional door at The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, IL, after having been away from that sacrament for over 20 years. It was almost like a spark lit in the dark – the decision to abandon my sleepy Catholicism and submit my personal will to Jesus and his Church. I’ve told this story as a part of my witness many times, but that single act of humility was the key that opened many doors, and continues to open doors. In fact, I remember visualizing Jesus behind a very thick veil – and wondering how I could get closer and cut through that veil. (Oddly, that actually didn’t occur to me in relation to this idea of “keys” until this moment.) I knew the great saints such as St. Ignatius of Loyola had done it, why not me? The horrifying realization was that the only thing standing between me and Jesus – was me!
Holy Mother Church and the examples of her great Saints seemed to be the answer – and that had to start with an act of humility – a veritable turning of the key. And the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Untangler of Knots was probably behind it all – leading me to her Shrine to begin a renewal, and ultimately now to St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis to help evangelize a new generation of Church goers to that historic Church. Her fingerprints are all over this journey. Salve Regina.
“Be humble in this life, that God may raise you up in the next. Be truly moderate and do not punish or condemn anyone immoderately. Be gentle so that you may never oppose justice. Be honorable so that you may never voluntarily bring disgrace upon anyone. Be chaste so that you may avoid all the foulness of lust like the pangs of death.” – St. Stephen of Hungary, first Apostolic King of Hungary
To be sure, that key is still turning – and locks are still opening and falling off, clicking shut, and falling off again. Not holy by any stretch of the imagination, but with a zeal I did not have before, I humbly return to the confessional regularly, and take the task of becoming holy, by God’s grace, with fear and trembling, and adore Jesus in the Eucharist. The journey into St. Teresa’s Interior Castle continues, slowly, sometimes fitfully towards His Majesty in the innermost chamber. It’s a typical house-to-house battle towards holiness that so many experience in the spiritual life.
Be Imitators of Christ
This takes us back to the second part of the reflection at the beginning of this article: So how does a sinner still in formation and uncertain of my own final disposition, but full of zeal for the souls of others, impact a positive change in others? The answer: be a good example. Saint Paul says in 1 Cor 11: 1 (that’s an easy verse to remember!) is: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He repeats this message elsewhere, especially 1 Cor 4: 16.
This certainly goes hand in hand with Jesus’ caution not to be the cause of any of these “little ones” to sin, else one be cast into the ocean with a millstone necktie. (see Mark 9:42, Matt 18:6, Luke 17:2). It is a heavy responsibility. Evangelizers take note.
The key that started turning the lock of my conversion, has become a key to understanding what to model in my own life to be a credible evangelist. Embracing the virtue of humility, even quite imperfectly, means rejecting the dark inverse of that, which is the great Deadly Sin of Pride. The Desert Fathers and Mothers taught that Pride really is the evil thread that runs through all of the sins. Dante placed it in the absolute lowest pit of Hell, in The Inferno. St. Thomas Aquinas identifies it as a sin of the intellect (Summa theologiae II-II, q. 132, a.5), and the reason as Lucifer and his followers fell from angelic purity:
“It is said, in the person of the devil (Isaiah 14:13-14), “I will ascend into heaven . . . I will be like the Most High.” And Augustine (De Qu. Vet. Test. cxiii) says that being “inflated with pride, he wished to be called God.” (See STh I, q. 63, a. 3)
Pride’s Ugly Daughters
This makes sense since its antidote humility governs the will, which controls the intellect. Pride locks people in slavery, shuts down dialog, and ends evangelization. It is in essence, it is Demonic.
Pride’s ugly daughters (disobedience, hypocrisy, contention, obstinacy, discord, and love of novelties/ eccentricity) (Source: Dr. Taylor Marshall) give us a picture of what we should avoid as evangelists and in our daily lives where the Gospel should be playing out. How many times have we seen these things playing out in the Catholic blog-o-sphere or on Facebook?
The great Dr. Scott Hahn and others have said that true evangelization begins with friendship. His Holiness Pope Francis has called us to reach out to people where they are, and bring them home. All the knowledge and good intentions in the world mean nothing, if Pride and her nasty offspring accompany you as an evangelist.
Our enemies of course are not of flesh and blood, although they do manifest themselves though agents of this world. The Grace to overcome pride and exercise heroic humility will only be found in the Sacrifice, Resurrection and Glorified flesh of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Daily Prayer, frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist, and a fervent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Humility, in consecration, the Rosary and the Scapular, are some of the specific means. To be a disciple, requires not only intention, but discipline. To be an evangelist requires consistent commitment to the interior life – and as they teach in the St. Paul Street Evangelization training: you simply cannot give what you don’t have. These sacraments and devotionals are designed keep Pride at bay while, they aid spiritual development towards holiness.
“The devil is afraid of us when we pray and make sacrifices. He is also afraid when we are humble and good. He is especially afraid when we love Jesus very much. He runs away when we make the Sign of the Cross.”
– St. Anthony of the Desert
Evangelization: Turn the Key
So friends, as we are called to evangelize, be mindful of the keys that can help us – namely the virtues, and especially the chief virtue of Humility. Call upon Jesus in the Eucharist and in Confession, and upon the most humble of His creatures – the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist you. Be mindful of Pride and banish it from your evangelization. Turn the key of humility – by the Grace of the Cross – and it will open doors, open eyes, and open hearts.