XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time—C
St. Martin de Porres Parish
So you have dreams. You want to go places. You’ve set your goals. Now your out to achieve them. Meet the right people. Hang out with the right crowd. Have good references. Hope you get the easy teachers. Spiffy up your resume. Bump up the GPA. Schedule that interview. Make your college visits. Rehearse your answers. Pray the SAT is good enough. Got to look good. Got to get it right. You sit down to make a good impression and in walks Jesus. Humility. A lesson for both the student and the dean, the boss and employee, the guest and the host. Take the lowest place and invite the poor and the lowly, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11). But Jesus how in the world do you expect us to make it out there? It’s a ‘dog eat dog’ world out there. How do you expect us to be humble in this way and actually get anywhere in life? Yes, contrary to the common sense wisdom of the world, humility is strength, for humility recognizes before both God and man the truth about who we are, what we can accomplish, and the goodness in others. Humility dares to say ‘I need help’ and to seek it out.
When we see something great, something really worth doing, there arises in us a deep desire for excellence, to live up to our talents and abilities and to achieve something exceptional, no matter what stands in our way. Simone Biles’ or Katie Ledecky’s desire to win a gold medal. Steve Job’s wanting to personalize the computer. Msgr. Georges Lamaitre seeking to explain the origins of the universe as a Big Bang. Here we need the virtue of magnanimity which gives us the hope we need to overcome the difficulties or obstacles which may otherwise discourage us. In these instances, humility seems out of the question, yet it is all too necessary to achieve these things. Humility tempers the mind in its search for excellence; humility moderates our desire for great things (Cf. Summa q. 161). In other words, humility helps us see who we truly are and what we are actually capable of, not reaching beyond ourselves and our capabilities. As Sirach says, “What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not” (Sir 3:21). Or as the Psalmist echoes, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me” (Ps 131:1). Both magnanimity and humility are needed in order for us to foster the kind of hopeful energy and calculated discipline we need to achieve our goals.
As such, humility requires—and this is where the challenge lies—us to subject ourselves, follow, be obedient to both God and men. Whether it is a trainer, a boss, or a friend, after being honest with ourselves about what we can actually accomplish, humility demands that we recognize the good in another and rely on them to get us there. Is this not the worse thing in sports, a player who is uncoachable or a coach who won’t listen to his assistants? A student who won’t go to the tutor or a teacher who doesn’t reach out to colleagues? A young employee who won’t be mentored or an executive who doesn’t listen to those on the ground?
We must learn as the Scriptures tell us to rely in humility on the wisdom of others. Sirach continues saying, “The mind of the wise appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the joy of the wise” (Sir 3:29).
Indeed, this realization that ‘I cannot do it myself’ and that ‘I need help’ is the first step for anyone trying to over come an addiction whether it be to a substance or the improper use of the internet. They are the first two steps of Alcoholics Anonymous:
1) We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
2) Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Another vivid image is that of Dante’s Divine Comedy. As Dante is touring Mt. Purgatory, the first terrace is populated by the Prideful, who are carrying massive rocks on their backs which bend them downward. Would you know that all they have to do is drop the rock and continue up the mountain to heaven. But they won’t do it, not yet at least, because they think they can do it. How long will they be there? Until in humility the realize that they cannot carry the rock themselves.
Indeed, pride seeks to isolate us, to move us further and further away from others who could help us achieve our goals or climb out of a mess. Scripture reveals the very same. Sirach continues, “A stubborn heart will fare badly in the end…A stubborn heart will have many a hurt…When the proud are afflicted, there is no cure” (Sir 3:26-28). Looking back to Dante, while the prideful carry these huge rocks by themselves in Purgatory, in Hell they are up to their necks in ice, frozen in isolation, as far from the heat and warmth of God as possible.
Yet, how we still love stories or movies about the young rebel who refuses the wisdom of his superiors in favor of his unorthodox and maverick ways, a true genius who in the end proves himself by overcoming the establishment. But if we’re honest with ourselves how many of these are there in real life? And we must admit that the success of such an individual is still contingent on their honest and humble self-knowledge that they can in fact do it. And how many of these types would still recognize the contributions of so many in their lives?
And if this is true for worldly success here and now, how much more is it true for the achievement of eternal life. In hope, we must set our sights on heaven, we must run the race towards that crown which will not perish. Yet in humility, we must realize that we are sinners. As Pope Francis has famously said, “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio? I am a sinner.” Then, we must recognize that we cannot save ourselves. Only God can, for he made us, we belong to him. That exultation Jesus speaks of and we desire is not something we can produce ourselves; it is not something within our power. This exultation is the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. And there is only one who has conquered death and sin. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11).