September 23, 2018

For 900 years, the mighty Hapsburg dynasty ruled over large parts of Central and Eastern Europe—an area that was known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Most of the Hapsburg rulers are buried in the subterranean crypt of a Church (the Kapuzinergruft) run by the Capuchin order of Franciscan monks.

Hapsburg dynasty funerals were distinguished by a particularly solemn and evocative ritual. As the funeral procession approached the closed Church doors, an imperial dignitary would knock. “Who is it who seeks entrance?” a monk would call out from within the Church. “It is His Royal Highness, Franz Josef, by the grace of God Emperor of Austria and Hungary.” The monk would reply, “I do not know him.”

A second time, the dignitary would knock, and the monk inside would ask who sought entry to the Church. “His Serene Majesty, the King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia and Galicia, the Protector of Jerusalem and the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Krakow…” (the list included more than 30 titles)—to which the monk replied, “I do not know him”.

A third and final time, the official knocked on the doors, and the monk once more asked the identity of the person seeking admission to the church. This time, however, the official answered humbly, “Franz Josef, a poor sinner in need of the mercy of God.”

The doors of the Church were swung open, the funeral procession could enter, and the Requiem Mass could begin.

"What is the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ?” St. Augustine asks. “I shall reply: first humility, second humility and third humility."

Humility is an attitude of the heart. One may seem humble, but the heart may be filled with arrogance and pride. Jesus tells us in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This inner attitude accepts that one is poor, lowly and in need of God’s mercy.

When God’s great gift of mercy is offered, in humility we receive it with great joy and gratitude for God’s undeserved gift. When we wrongly believe we can earn salvation or create faith with our own ability, there is no “received” gift and no joy.

Humility is necessary to enter the Kingdom of God. ‘If anyone wishes to be first,” Jesus teaches us, “he shall be the last of all and servant to all.”

Kathryn Richards