During Pope Benedict's trip to Germany last month, he raised the question of who may enter the kingdom of God. In a homily during a Mass in Freiburg in Breisgau, the pope said some agnostics – those "who are constantly exercised by the question of God, those who long for a pure heart but suffer on account of their sin" – are closer to God's kingdom than are believers whose life of faith is routine and who see the Church as mainly an institution.
The pope raised this matter, not to incite our curiosity about who is going to heaven and who is not, but to challenge us to a deeper faith.
The renewal of the Church, the pope maintains, is less about renewing structures and more about renewing hearts. At Freiburg, he asked Catholics to employ methods for renewing their faith – "in prayer, in participation at Sunday Mass, in exploring my faith through meditation on sacred Scripture and study of the Catechism of the Catholic Church."
The Christian life is primarily a life of humility, the pope said. Before the greatness of God, we can only be humble. That humility is lived out through humble service of one's neighbour and the common good.
Indeed, the word "humility" is derived from the Latin word "humus," which means earth. So, the pope said, "Those who are humble stand with their two feet on the ground, but above all they listen to Christ, the Word of God, who ceaselessly renews the Church and each of her members."
Humility is not a virtue held in much regard in our society or, probably, in any society. The proud seek attention and usually get attention. Today, the expression of pride is amplified by a global media. The humble, by their nature, go unnoticed.
Yet, the stance of humility is mandatory for a Christian. It is true that some are called to leadership roles in the Church or society, roles that necessarily bring attention. However, a Christian called to leadership must be especially aware of the equality of all people. While at times gratifying, the attention one receives from being well known must be seen as a temptation to pride rather than a sign of one's virtue.
One of the best paths to humility is the practice of regular Eucharistic Adoration. If nothing else, an hour before the Lord should help one realize how the Son of God humbled himself, how he who is all knowing and all powerful became weak and powerless. Having become human, he now exists in our midst, not so much in great monuments, as under the appearance of a simple piece of bread. Eucharistic Adoration may also drive deep the point that God is great and we are little.
Humility brings the renewal to which Pope Benedict calls us. The proud Pharisees and chief priests had no virtue. It is the little ones of God who will most assuredly enter his kingdom.