Sunday, August 29, 2010

22nd Sunday - homily

All these years, I’ve been hearing stuff about Catholics who sit in the back of Church. They really do get the shaft. Well, today, I am declaring that I got their backs! After hearing this Gospel, I realize that Catholics who sit in the back of Church are the humble ones here. They have taken the lowest seat at a banquet! I don’t know, are you all in the back waiting for me, your host, to invite you to a higher seat (like the front pews)?!

Humility is the prominent theme in today’s readings. The first reading from Sirach 3 teaches us to “conduct your affairs with humility”; Jesus says in Luke 14 that “the one who humbles himself will be exalted”. My definition of humility is honesty. To be humble means to be honest. To live humility means to live the truth. First, we live the truth about ourselves. The truth is that everything that is good in our lives is from God. We participate in it, but even that is Grace. Anything that is bad is from us. This is the truth. Humility helps us to recognize that we are sinners. When we first start Mass, we say this: “I confess…that I have sinned”. We acknowledge in God’s presence that we are sinners. We acknowledge the truth.

Humility helps us to live the truth about God. God is all-knowing and all-powerful. We are not. God knows infinitely better than we do. And yet, so many people come to me and say that they know better than God. They don’t say this directly, but indirectly. Recently, I was speaking with a friend of many years who is a good man. He was telling me that he uses contraception with his wife because they are done having kids. I explained to him that God has said through Scripture and Tradition that contraception is wrong. He wouldn’t buy it. So, I asked him, “If God told you tonight that contraception is wrong, would you stop doing it?” He said, “No”. That’s all that needed to be said. It was pride. He was saying that he knew better than God.

More often than that, people have told me they know better than the Church. When I first started getting involved in my faith, I was 21. I realized then that I didn’t know better than the Church which is 2000 years old. We don’t know better than God and we don’t know better than the Church. To be a humble Catholic means to be a humble servant of the Church and to bow to her authority. God has given the Church authority to teach for Him.

Living humility means living the truth about sin and grace. Again, we know the truth: we are sinner in need of Grace if we want to do anything good in our lives. A saint once said, “a truly humble person is never scandalized by sin”. This would be our sin or the sin or others. The proud person is scandalized: ‘I can’t believe I did that’…’I’m better than that’. Pride is so pervasive.

The Book of Sirach, chapter 10, says that “pride is the root of all sin”. People are generally so surprised to hear the effects of pride when I bring it up to them in Confession, spiritual direction, or counsel. One woman confessed defensiveness and hyper-sensitivity with her family that led to immediate comebacks to their jokes. I said it was pride. She said she had never thought of that before. Pride leads to being judgemental, angry, and impatient with others. So many of us can be perfectionists. We expect others around us to be perfect because we expect that with ourselves. Also, we see them as reflections of us. If they sin, then we look badly. ‘No son (or husband or co-worker) of mine does that kind of stuff’.

The best and most fruitful counter to pride is a regular confession. Confession is certainly a humbling experience. It takes a lot of humility to get on our knees and admit honestly to God what we have done. The Grace of Confession helps to move us away from pride. And, the counsel that the priest offers can really help to identify the problems we are having. A monthly confession can really help us to grow in the virtue of humility.

Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas gives us a fuller picture of what’s going on with humility. He taught that humility comes from the Latin word, “humus”, which translates as earth. Humility, then, brings us down to earth. This understanding shows us the humility of Jesus Christ. He came down to earth from his throne in heaven. As St Paul writes in his letter to the Phillipians, “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross”. The Cross is the greatest sign of humility in the world. Christ continues to humbled Himself in the Eucharist, becoming so small for us. He sends us forth from the Mass to imitate his humility this week…to stay down to earth and honest this week. If we live his humility, we will share in his exaltation. St Paul writes, “because (he humbled himself), God greatly exalted him” (Phil 2). And, hopefully us, too.

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