TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME (C)
Today's lesson from Scripture is about one of those virtues that at first seems easy but can in fact be quite difficult to achieve -- humility. It's difficult to work on improving our humility without falling into the trap of being so proud of how humble we are. When we take pride in our supposed humility, that's a sure sign we are doing it wrong. If you are ever tempted to describe yourself as a humble person, chances are you are not. Humility never calls attention to itself, and it can take many forms.
We have two very good examples of humility manifesting itself in different ways in the Church today. Shortly after Pope Francis was elected, the media made much of his humility in eschewing many of the traditional trappings of the papal office. He is a simple man who prefers simple styles of clothing and a simple life style. What you may not know is that his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, also preferred things simple. From reports I have read (and I suppose them to be true) Benedict did not personally favor the more elaborate trappings of the papal office. But he accepted them nevertheless because it was what was expected of him. He suppressed his own personal preferences and adopted the regalia of the office. That is also a humble act.
Two holy men, both great examples of humility manifesting itself in different ways.
So just what is humility and how can we live more humbly in our own lives? Humility does not mean being a wimp, having low self-esteem, having no back-bone or no sense of worth. Humility is essentially recognizing one's place in the cosmos and coming to terms with a simple statement I read on a bumper sticker once: "There is one God, and you are not Him."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines humility as, "The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition of pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer."
1. God is the author of all good. That means, firstly, that you are not. It also means that He is your author, the One who made you. When you realize that you are a created being, that your existence is dependent upon God and that everything good in your life was made and given to you by God, you have taken the first step toward true humility. A humble person does not look out at the world and see realms to conquer and wealth to possess. A humble person comprehends that God owns it all, and finds contentment in being able to enjoy God's creation for a time as a steward.
2. Humility avoids pride. Pride is one of the seven capital sins, often called the root of all sins. The Catechism defines pride as "undue self esteem or self love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God." In Jesus' parable today, it is the prideful man who presumes to take the place of honor at the table. The humble man waits to be invited. The sin of pride is doubly dangerous because the false sense of self worth it gives can actually prevent us from recognizing and repenting of our other sins. Pride stands in the way of asking forgiveness.
3. Humility provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. When we acknowledge God as the creator of all things (including and most especially ourselves), and when we avoid the pitfalls of pride, then we are able to look honestly at ourselves and admit our own weaknesses and failings. We are thus able to both offer God thanksgiving for our life and the blessings we enjoy, and come to God in supplication and ask Him to forgive us our trespasses and help us to grow in holiness.
So what are some practical things we can do to grow in humility?
Pray daily. Begin each day by saying "thank you" to God. End each day with an examination of conscience and be ready to ask God's forgiveness for your sins. If we make a practice of saying "thank you" and "I'm sorry," to God, that should rightly overflow to our neighbors. Practice saying these things to them, as well.
Listen more than you speak. And listen to yourself when you do speak. How often is "I" the first word out of your mouth? Are you the star of all your own stories? Do you find reasons to be personally offended during the day? Turn them into opportunities to be humble. Let presumed affronts and insults go.
Look for opportunities to help others. And don't expect thanks or recognition. Do things because it is good to do them, even if no one sees or ever knows. Never expect praise or reward for your deeds. And when you do receive them, accept them with a smile and with thanks, and then move on.
Put others first. This runs so counter to our modern society, but is essential to Christianity. Christianity is the religion of the cross, of self-sacrifice for others. A Christian is willing to nail his own ambitions and desires to the cross and be subject to the good of the other.
Understand that you are not perfect. It will make it easier for you to forgive others. But know that God desires you to become perfect. Ask for His help. Humility is part of perfection. The first step in being humble is realizing that you cannot get there on your own. Ask for help from God, who is so humble that He emptied Himself of His divinity and became man so that He might die on our behalf. Keep the cross before you always. It will show you what humility looks like.