22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Preached September 1, 2019; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Both today’s 1st reading and Gospel speak about the indispensable Christian virtue
of humility. Without humility we have no connection to God; without humility we
will find ourselves among the first who will be last. God resists the proud, but gives
grace to the humble. (Jm 4:6; 1 Pe 5:5)

Humility is essential, but it is hard for us to grasp its true nature; all too easily we
think of humility as the virtue of the doormat and so want nothing to do with it.
Well, Jesus said, Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart. (Mt 11:29) He is
surely no doormat.

Maybe we can get a better grasp of humility, which is so foreign to us, if we begin
with pride, which is familiar to us.

Pride first begins when a little child (maybe about 2 years old or so) first discovers
his will and learns to say, “No. I don’t want to.” This is quite a trial for the parents,
but is actually a very important discovery on the part of the child who is learning to
distinguish himself from his parents and discover himself as a person. We all know,
however, that a child needs to grow out of this stage of refusal. An adult who acted
this way would be quite insufferable.

Unfortunately, none of us seems to grow out of this stage altogether. Whenever we
either want or refuse something for no other reason that to affirm our own will, we
are acting like the two year old. That is pride. Whenever we say, “I don’t want to”,
for no other reason than affirming our own ego, for no other reason than it is “I”
who doesn’t want to, we are putting ourselves at the center of reality. That is pride.
It is not the strong will that is the problem – it is a good thing to be strong willed – it
is the misdirection of the will that is the problem.

The child first learns to say “No. I don’t want to.” Later as the child grows and learns
he inevitably learns about being right or being wrong. He gets an answer right or he
gets it wrong. He gets in an argument with his brother or sister, they start telling
each other: “I am right, you are wrong.” “No, I am right, you are wrong.”

Again, there is an important discover going on here, the discovery of truth and
falsehood, and also the discovery of good and bad. Yet, we all have the experience of
getting in an argument (“I am right, you are wrong”) in which we suddenly discover
that actually we are mistaken; then it happens that we do not want to admit it, so we
keep insisting on being right. That is where pride enters in. It is no longer a matter
of what is right or wrong, true or false, good or bad, but about my being right; I must
be right, because I am I.

There you have it: pride is the attachment we could say to the pleasure of having my
own way and the pleasure of being right. Is there any pleasure so intoxicating as the
pleasure of having my own way or the pleasure of thinking that I am in the right?
Pride puts my own will above what is good and true. Pride will distort reality to fit
my pleasure, rather than adapting my will to reality. Pride seeks the first place for
“me” because it puts “me, myself, and I” as the unholy trinity at the center of reality,
it is truly ‘egocentric’.

What pride does is precisely to pervert the most noble of human faculties, the mind
and the will, through which we are meant to open up to reality outside of ourselves;
instead pride turns these very faculties in upon themselves, closing us inside the
prison of our own ego.

The mind is able to know what is true, good, and right, independently of whether it
is ‘mine’ or not. Consequently, the will following the mind, is capable of choosing
what is true and good and right, even at some cost to myself.

Humility, then, removes ‘me’ from the center of things, so that my mind and will
become capable of serving the greater reality of what is true, good, and right.
Humility gives us great strength, setting us free from our petty private world and
enabling us to seek what is true, so as to choose what is good, and thereby act
rightly.

Humility decentralizes the ‘ego’ not by making it subservient to other human beings,
but by making it subject to God, the source of all reality, and disposed to serve God
in others.

We can now take another step, considering the relation of pride to ambition. The
proud man, seeking the first place, wants great things precisely for himself. The
proud man pursues a career in order to accomplish something for the sake of selfadvancement
and self-exaltation. Pride says to itself, “I want to be acclaimed for my
great wealth, or my great beauty, or my great skill, or for my great
accomplishments.”

The humble man, however, does not avoid great things and can even desire
something great, but for an entirely different motive.
In today’s Gospel example, it would not be a display of humility on the part of the
man who, after taking the lowest place, was called up higher, to say, “Not me; I am
unworthy.”

Likewise, at the Last Supper, when Peter says to Jesus, You will never wash my feet,
that was not an act of humility. (Jn 13:8) If Jesus, the Son of God, chooses to wash
our feet, resistance is pride, while humility graciously accepts the gift.
So also, when the Virgin Mary replied to the angel, saying, Behold, the handmaid of
the Lord, be it done to me according to your word, she was giving her humble assent
to the greatest mission that any mere human being ever received, she was giving her
humble assent to receive the highest place in the universe after Jesus Christ himself.
(Lk 1:38)

Likewise, for us humility is willing to receive the gift of God’s forgiveness and to
accept the gift of being made a child of God, and then strives to live worthily of that
gift.

Humility is not afraid of great things, but seeks great things according to God’s will
and standard. The humble soul first of all bravely seeks to do great things for the
glory of God and the salvation of souls, beginning with her own soul.

Since, however, the humble soul does not seek herself, but God and his will, the
humble soul is what we call a ‘team’ player. She seeks great things according to her
own position, her own seat at the banquet, without choosing the first place for
herself. So, the humble soul will play the small part with greatness, if that is the part
God has assigned her, or the large part also with greatness, if that is the part God has
assigned her. Nevertheless, the greatness is never ‘hers’, but God’s. Always, like
Mary, she sings, My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in
God my Savior. (Lk 1:46-47)

Finally, humility opens the eyes of the soul to see the hidden splendor of God,
revealed to the eyes of faith. The humble soul is able to see that by approaching the
visible altar, whether in a simple humble church or at St. Peter’s Basilica in the
Vatican, the she is truly drawing near to Mt. Zion and the city of the living God, the
heavenly Jerusalem, with her countless multitudes of angels and saints, and to Jesus
the great high priest and mediator of the new and eternal covenant in his own
Blood.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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