29 Aug Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 28, 2016
Father Shawn Hughes
Disclaimer: Homilies are never the creative act of one person. So as we begin to post these homilies on our website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be nothing original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures.
God bless you.
Today’s Scriptures are all about the virtue of humility, the virtue that is the basis of all the others. The first reading, the Gospel Acclamation, and the Gospel all highlight Humility. When speaking to the disciples Jesus never misses an opportunity to explain the necessity of humility as a characteristic to be his followers. In Matthew’s gospel he says to the disciples: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yolk upon you and learn from me for I gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” (Matthew 11:28 ff) The two qualities about Himself that the disciples are to learn are gentleness and humbleness of heart. As we heard in the gospel the Lord was invited to a banquet in the house of one of the leading Pharisees. Jesus notices that as the guests arrive, they take the most honourable positions at the table…so he says…“when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, go up higher’; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” He concludes the parable with the spiritual truth:
“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14-7-11)
This parable reminds us that we have to know our place; so that we will avoid being blinded by ambition. Sometimes our lives can become a frantic pursuit of greater goals, for which in many cases we are completely unqualified and which sooner or later would cause us to be humiliated. Humility calls us to be real. To know ourselves ….our gifts, our strengths,…and our weaknesses. The word humility has humus as its root. It means the earth, close to the ground, close to reality…We have that expression that is considered a great compliment: …“so and so is very down to earth…” meaning they are very real, they know themselves, their ambition does not exceed their ability. They are comfortable, even happy, with themselves, as they are. They are real.
Six years ago, during a very wonderful retreat during one of the prayer periods I had a deep, deep sense of my sins, but…what accompanied that, even more profoundly, was a deep, deep awareness that I was a loved sinner. That in spite of my faults, my failings, my weaknesses, my sins, God still loves me. And to be healed there was nothing I could do to earn or produce holiness…to be healed I had to humbly open my being to the power of that love. This was, for me, a profound experience of humility, of reality…that yes, I am a sinner, BUT, I am a loved sinner! ever since that day when we call to mind our faults and failings at the beginning of Mass I always add….. “But always deeply aware of the depth of the Father’s love for us.” Then we pause…that silence is very important…we do call to mind our faults, our failings, the times we have sinned…but we also call to mind the depth of God’s love for us…I actually pray interiorly: “I am sinner, I am a loved sinner!”… That is the reality. Living profoundly aware of that reality is humility.
The virtue of humility has nothing to do with being shy, timid or mediocre. It causes us to be fully aware of the talents Our Lord has given us and wants to make them fruitful in our lives. Humility counteracts the tendency to show off, to boast about our achievements and of thinking we are wonderful. It is turned toward the other and not turned in on oneself.
I remember the Sisters of Providence who taught me during high school…when they were paid a compliment …being very gracious…saying thank you…and then their hand immediately going to the cross hanging around their neck…just fingering it…silently giving the glory to God, not receiving it for themselves. In that silent gesture living the first line of Psalm 113…non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam…“not to us, Lord, not to us, but to You be all glory due.”
Humility makes us always acknowledge that our talents our virtues, both the natural ones and those of grace, come from God. When you really think about it, those who are deeply talented, highly intelligent, maybe physically attractive even those who are highly virtuous…they did nothing to merit these graces…just as those who don’t have them did nothing to merit not having them…the glory, the merit belongs to God. The truly humble realize that everything good comes from God and act accordingly. Thus the response to graces received in successes, and advancement does not produce pride…humility produces gratitude to God. It is directed outward. Not turned in on ourselves.
Humility is two sided. It must stand in the truth of the gifts and talents we possess and it must be deeply aware of our weaknesses as well. I just love the great story from history of Napoleon who once said to a Cardinal: “Eminence! Do you not know that I if I so desired I could destroy the Catholic Church in an instant.” The Cardinal laughed and simply replied: “We, with our sins and stupidity, haven’t been able to do it for the past 1800 years; what makes you think you can?” A very human reply! Deeply aware of human weakness. Very true. Very real.
There can be no progress in the interior life without humility. The Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, said: “The beginning of all holiness is humbly admitting that without God we can do nothing, but that,….with, in, and through him, everything is possible.” (quoted in Priests for the Third Millennium by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, p. 53)
So to grow in humility we need; on the one hand to be absolutely real about our gifts, our talents and use them to bear much fruit as God expects…to employ these gifts and talents to the best of our ability to glorify Him…and to be deeply aware of our weaknesses. This leads us to be continually grateful to God and to be full of the greatest spiritual daring because we base everything on God. We know that our Lord will supply everything we are lacking. Thus humiliating circumstances are not disheartening they can be seen as opportunities to turn away from being turned in upon ourselves and more and more to the Lord in all things.
The Great medieval Italian author Dante, who wrote the Divine Comedy on Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. Purgatory for him is a Seven layered Mountain, each layer is made by one of the seven deadly sins and at the base of the mountain, closest to Hell, are those with the worst deadly sin, Pride. Those in Purgatory will eventually go to heaven so they are being purged of their particular sins. In this work of literature, the proud go around with great boulders on their backs…the boulders push the proud down close to the earth…to reality. To the truth.
We need to stop worrying about the impression we are giving and give ourselves to reality. We need to stop thinking about what other people are thinking about us…or worrying about our reputation and give ourselves over to reality…that’s humility…that’s actually a source of joy because we can get rid of the boulders on our back…worrying about the impression we are making, worrying about our reputation, worrying about what other people are thinking…the humble dump those boulders and live in reality.
Two simple practical ways of pursing humility to practice this upcoming week. If you struggle with pride…and we all do…it is the main capital sin…find opportunities to purposely take the lower place, the less important position, the one that won’t get attention. And even when you think you deserve the attention: give the attention to someone else, deliberately draw attention away from yourself to someone else. The truly humble focus on the needs of others and respond to them.
Every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.