by f. Luis Casasús, General Superior of the Idente missionaries.
San Benno, September 01, 2019. Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
Book of Sirach 3: 17-18.20.28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19.22-24; Saint Luke 14:1.7-14.
The point of reference of today’s liturgical texts is humility. It is described as an attitude before the richness of the material world or of the world of the spirit (First Reading). It is also depicted as the best attitude of a Christian in his relations with others, in the different situations which life offers (Gospel). It is especially the hallmark of our behavior towards God, a behavior through which we discover our smallness in God’s magnanimity (Second Reading).
Jesus is giving more than a lesson in wedding reception etiquette. He is getting to the heart of what it is to be capable of receiving the Divine Mercy when he says that everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.
Let us not be naïve and delude ourselves: humility is despised and scorned in today’s world. Humility is viewed by many as a virtue of questionable value, because it is often misinterpreted as constantly putting yourself down or degrading yourself in the presence of others. And, even more, it is a rare virtue in religious life. But, nevertheless, its power and brightness are great in heaven and earth. When humility is authentic, it is contagious and creates confidence but, when it is absent, many doors are closed to us.
There is a popular oriental story: Once upon a time, a student came to see a spiritual master. He said: Honorable master, I have studied for many years, and I have learned so much about spiritual discipline already that I have reached a very high level. I heard that you are a great master, and I have therefore come to see if you can teach me anything more. The master did not reply. Instead, he picked up a teacup and placed it in front of the student. He then picked up the teapot and poured until the tea reached the rim of the cup, and then he kept on pouring until the tea overflowed onto the table. The student stared at the master in total confusion and said: No, no, Master! The cup is overflowing! The master stopped pouring, looked at him and smiled. He said: Young man, this is you. I am sorry that I cannot accept you as a student. Like this cup, your mind is filled up and I cannot teach you anymore. If you want to learn, you must first empty your cup.
A person who is really wise knows when and how to bend, and always keeps his cup empty.
Does it not remind us the episode of the young rich man of the Gospel?
St. Augustine was once asked what the most important virtues are to progress in the spiritual life of faith. He said that the most important of all was humility. The second most important virtue was humility. And likewise the third, because we need humility to live by faith, we need humility to grow in hope, we need humility to love and serve God and others. But more than anything else, we should remember that Jesus described himself as meek and humble of heart (Mt 11:29).
We all see in our everyday experience that a lack of humility is a key component in the breakdown of many relationships and the tragic downfall of many entertainment, sports, business, professional and political leaders. Upon reflection, we realize that humility rarely just comes naturally. It is often born and nurtured in an environment of faith and respect for others, and, quite often, it has come from some suffering. The word humility has its root in the Latin word humus, which means soil or earth. From this root meaning, humility gets its connotations of lowly or close to the earth, modest, rooted in reality, comfortable just being oneself.
Quite literally, a humble person, like soil, has gone through a process which has involved some dying and transformation, a loss of ego, and has grown to become a marvelously nurturing, for-others type of person. In the same line of thought, Christ invites us to place ourselves with humility beside those chosen by God: the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…difficult and irritating people, and to be at the same level with them to find ourselves amidst those God loves with special tenderness, and to overcome the repugnance and shame to share with them table and friendship.
The poor, the blind, the crippled, the lame, represent those who did wrong in life. They are the symbol of those who walk without the light of the Gospel and stumble, fall, hurt themselves and, others, switching from one error to another. Jesus reminds his disciples that the feast was organized just for them. Woe to exclude them.
A quick check is sufficient to realize that all that we are is a gift of God. Life, beauty, strength, intelligence, qualities we have come from him. Nothing is ours, there’s nothing we can boast about.
To show off God’s gift as if they were one’s own is not evil but ridiculous. Those who flaunt the qualities they have received to confront and impose oneself on others are foolish. The gifts of God were given so that we can make of them gifts to the brothers and sisters
Humble is the one who, well aware of his talents, aptitudes and abilities, puts oneself at the service of all. He considers the others as masters because of the presence of God in their lives.
Humility is pleasing to God. He is pleased when we accept our condition as his creatures and his children and establish the right kind of relationship with him and with all creation, for this is what humility is all about.
The lack of humility, by contrast, destroys the harmony of our inner being and of the universe itself, and this rupture is not pleasing to the Creator. This is why in Sirach we read: The greater you are, the more humbly you should behave, and then you will find favor with the Lord, and in the Gospel we read: For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be raised up. Why is humility pleasing to God? Precisely because the humble person does not seek to supplant God, to “be like God,” or to consider himself a super-man or a wise man above all others.
Sirach recommends: Do not try to understand things that are too difficult for you, or try to discover what is beyond your powers. The humble person pleases God because he does not consider God as a rival, but as a father and a friend instead. The humble person pleases God not only because he recognizes himself as a creature, but also because he recognizes himself as a sinner, and unworthy of his condition as a son. Precisely because of this, the humble person maintains the attitude of a son with God, a son who begs mercy and loving forgiveness.
Right relationships spring from humility. It is a cliché to say that man is a relational being, and that he entertains such relations with his peers, with the world that surrounds him and with God. What is not equally obvious is what authentic and proper relations are.
The history of humankind offers many examples of different ways of living one’s relational dimension.
There are those whose behavior was guided by a relationship of hatred and destruction. Others are enemies, and they must be done away with; God is an enemy, he should be killed, as Nietzsche proclaimed. Nature must be destroyed to build cities and human settlements. This is an extremely erroneous relationship!
There is also the relationship based on possession. One wants to possess things to build a kingdom of well-being; one wants to possess others to use them to build up one’s greatness and power. One wants to possess God to manage him according to will. This does not seem to be the right kind of relationship either.
Will a relationship based on fear be a good relationship? Fear of a God whose greatness is imposing and who is terrible in his judgment; fear of people and things due to an inferiority complex or the lack of a practical spirit. No, fear is not an adequate relationship either.
The true relationship springs from humility and manifests itself as a relationship based on love. If I am humble, I recognize my condition as a creature and my immense smallness, I live my personal relationship with God in an attitude of love.
This love induces me to perceive his greatness and his generosity towards me, to trust him in spite of my smallness, to be thankful for his gifts in this city of Zion, which is a condensation of all the goods that God can grant to the human being (Second Reading). Christians did not approach Mount Sinai, to have a terrifying experience of God. They come closer to Christ. The religious experience they have is completely different: it is that of the feast because they discover in Jesus the face of God who loves people.
If I am humble, I love others and I do not consider myself superior to them, nor do I try to give them something so that I will receive something in return (Gospel). If I am humble, I do not become arrogant with the power of the riches that I may have, or with the greatness of the science that I possess (First Reading).
Christ does not ask to move back two or three places in the banquet, but to reverse the positions, to overturn the scale of values. Only those who choose, as he did, the place of the servant, will be exalted during the only banquet that counts, that of the kingdom of God. For who on earth showed off, received bows and honors, that time will be dramatic. He will see himself relegated to the last place, a sign of life’s failure, demonstrating that the values on which he has staked were ephemeral and fleeting.
But becoming humble is easier said than done. To really grow in humility, we have to:
* Look to the needs of others. This begins with our thoughts: we think of others as better than ourselves. We need to look out for their interests rather than our own, be ambitious for their success rather than ours. Then we can translate such thoughts into deeds, or actually preferring others, serving them and honoring them. The more we do, the humbler we become. The truly humble person forgets himself because he’s so absorbed in the love of God and the service of others.
* Enjoy and cherish God’s love and esteem. We seek worldly honors and esteem, because we do not recognize how much God esteems and loves us, how much He is honored us by welcoming us into the royal family. We seek after human respect and positions is because, psychologically, we think we need them. The more we focus on who we are in God’s eyes, the more we will see that worldly honors are a vanity of vanities… and sometimes even a millstone.
* Make humble confessions. In the Sacrament of Penance, we participate in the joy of the. In the Sacrament of Confession, we recognize our weak clay, we examine our failings and sins, but even more importantly, we recognize the infinite treasure of God’s mercy and go humbly to ask him for forgiveness and help. There is no better way to fight against pride than humbly to examine our consciences and to see that we are not who we ought to be, that in our thoughts, words, acts and omissions, we have greatly sinned and strayed big time from the path of Christ’s footsteps, and come to God for forgiveness and help.
* Accept sufferings and humiliations well, as Christ teaches us. We cannot be human without experiencing suffering, embarrassment, put downs, and other highly unpleasant circumstances. But these things can make us bitter or better, depending on whether we relate them to God and allow him to draw good out of them. They can make us either proud or rebellious or they can be a chance for us to grow in humility. The cross of suffering and humiliations will help us to die to our ego.