August 28, 2022
Sir. 3:17-29; Ps. 68:4-7, 10-11; Heb. 12:18-24; Lk. 14:1,7-14
Today’s readings teach us the true power in humility. It seems like a very conflict in terms. Power IN humility. Humility, of course is not humiliation. Humility is what makes us real; it puts everything in perspective. It grounds us. Humility and human come from the same Latin word, humus, the term for earth (a rich and nutrient-filled soil). Dirt. Genesis reminds us that we are from earth, from dirt.
From the wrong perspective this could sound humiliating, except for the fact that God made us out of love from the same dirt that He Himself created. At its most fundamental level, humility requires us to finally concede that we are not as wise and powerful as God. Of course, if we were faced with that question in a religious classroom environment, all of us (I hope!!) would readily concede this fact. However, from minute-to-minute and day-to-day, we might not give God so much room in our lives? He often seems so slow and works too mysteriously. Life has its way of humbling all of us sooner or later though, (usually sooner). Such humbling experiences are always key transitional opportunities. Do we give in to God or do we give in to an obstinate ego, or despair or cynicism?
In the sacrament of Matrimony a couple is reminded of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:21): ‘Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.’
What could be more humbling and EFFECTIVE? You don’t have to even worry too much about whether or not you’ve submitted or subordinated yourself to God. If you’ve married well, you have your spouse to keep your ego and your willfulness in check. It’s often said that in marriage you are frequently confronted with the question, “Would you rather be ‘right’ or happy”?
Those called to Holy Orders have a Mass of candidacy the semester before they are ordained to the transitional deaconate. This is where they are officially cleared for Holy Orders. Unless they quit or really mess up, they are effectively ‘in’. I recall the readings at Mass that day, the second reading being from 1 Cor 1:26-31.
‘Consider your own calling, brothers
and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to God that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.’
During that Mass I recall the then Archbishop of Portland, Oregon, John Vlazny, tell us in the homily that, “When you come to Mother Church and promise to give her your life, you have to expect that she is going to take it.” Just what we all needed to hear. It seems the closer one gets to ordination, the less one feels ready… which is probably good because it is after all God’s project, not ours. The whole Mass was surely a humbling experience, but also full of the promise of a meaningful life if we were faithful to our vows… A form of exultation in doing God’s work. A few months later the Rite of ordination features the candidates lying prostrate on the sanctuary floor as a sign of full sublimation. Humbling, but it is done while the whole Church chants the litany of the saints and calls on the intercession of centuries of tradition and commitment. A sublime experience.
People called to the single life will likewise have to subordinate themselves to God, a community and a life of service if they want their lives to make sense. The Church has still not refined a proper ceremony for the avowed single life…
Regardless of our calling, our commitment to the Church and to God will prevent us from ‘seeking what is too sublime for us or searching for things beyond our strength’ as we are advised in the first reading today from Sirach. Our commitment to God and each other provides the oversight and humility that is needed for true exaltation.
Let’s face it. Life is frequently a frightening and even terrifying experience where we are often left feeling helpless, clueless and even hopeless. But as we are reminded today in the gospel, ‘the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’ From the fear of the world, we are transferred to the banquet and the treasures that only heaven can provide.
This week might be a good time to share with your children, grandchildren (or any young person) about an episode or period in your life when you felt most humbled and then gave in to God and THEN felt your whole attitude and world view ‘exalted’.