HUMILITY: THE MOTHER OF ALL VIRTUES
HOMILY FOR TWENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C. Readings: Sirach 3:17-20.25-29; Psalm 65; Hebrews 12:18-19.22-24 and Luke 14:1,7-14.
Two words that are often used in contrast are pride and humility. These words are what the liturgy of today sets for us to reflect on. The liturgy of today helps us to re-evaluate the basis of our religiosity and spirituality: are we rooted in humility or pride? Are we truly like Christ in all humility or like the devil full of pride? If we are sons of God, we must exercise humility like our savior because lambs do not give birth to lions.
The first reading from the book of Sirach gives us a candid advice on humility. It says, “My son, perform your task in meekness; then you will be loved more than a giver of gift. The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favour with God.” (Sir 3:17-18). It is a radical demand in a fallen world, with expectation that the dignity of a person should be measured by his humility, as the most elevated are the most exposed to pride. Sometime ago, I wrote on my status, “Give a person money and power/position, then you will know the true nature of the person because poverty can hide our pride and make us humble.” The funny comment I got from a friend was to give her money first to know if she is truly humble. This reading also brings to light the fact that humility is a sign of maturity, which consequently, leads to simplicity and gentleness of life. Pride the opposite of humility, which they say go before a fall, is a disease and the cure for it is to imitate Christ in His humility.
The gospel of today presents Christ as the role model of humility, who noticed how the invited guests to a marriage feast chose the best places and spoke to them in parable, “When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honour, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lower place… For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (vv. 8-9, 11). Christ speaking in parable communicates to us He was speaking about kingdom issues instead of offering advice about self-promotion. He knows how we can be attracted to honour and worldly pleasures, but chose to reveal how things work in the kingdom of God. It is a reversal that turns our familiar world upside down to reveal a world with very different rules.
Luke introduces this reversal in Mary’s Song (the magnificat), where she sang, “He put forth his arm in strength and scatters the proud-hearted. He cast the mighty from their thrones and raises the lowly. He fills the starving with good things, sends the rich away empty” (Lk. 1:51-53). With this, there is no reason to wonder why Christ was so humble, who being in the very nature of God, humbled himself and took the nature of man, the ultimate example of someone who deserves the highest place but took the lowest place, and was granted the highest place (Phil 2:5-11). He also had humble parents and learnt humility from them. To this effect that Christ helps us to prepare for God’s Kingdom through this virtue of humility just as we would prepare for life in a foreign land by learning the language and customs. So also we need to prepare for the Kingdom of God by learning how to follow the Kingdom Rules now, which is humility and will eventually lead to exaltation. There is nothing to lose by being humble. Proverbs 22:4 says, “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth, honour and life.” On the contrary, pride ends in shame and defeat. We must also be careful when we choose the low place, act meek and humble, so that others may notice how humble we are. This is a subtle form of spiritual pride that is very dangerous.
Christ not only spoke to the proud-invited guest, he also turns his attention to the host. People are inclined to invite those who can return the favour. This is common among us when we have birthday parties, anniversaries, weddings and other events. We customarily invite those to give us fat envelops which Christ classified as our reward. Importantly is the selfless service we render to people that cannot repay us; for we will be repaid in the resurrection of the just (v.14). He earlier calls us to love our enemies, do good to them and expecting nothing back; and our reward will be great in heaven (Lk. 6:35). Hence, God calls us to the kingdom values, and blesses us when we seek to please God rather than other people. He gives us an invitation to invest in the vulnerable elements of humankind.
In view of this, the second reading reminds us that the destination of the humble is Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where innumerable Angels and Saints have their festal gathering. The proud-hearted has no place here, but basically, it is a place for the meek and humble of heart.
Dear friends in Christ, Pride is never an option for us, it destroys our communication and connection with others by isolating us and making it difficult for anyone to get close to us. Pride will never make us see our faults nor be open to learning. It aids the destruction of good relationships and family because it can never say “I am sorry or please.” If the devil pretends to have all other virtues, he cannot pretend to be humble. Pride is worst than any pandemic, virus or disease and the only cure to pride is humility. With humility we depend solely on God and in accordance with the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Man is a beggar before God” (CCC. 2559). Hence, the outstretched hand of the poor and vulnerable is not only to beg for help but an invitation for us to step out of the marginalization and segregation of the poor, and it also invites us to a life of humility, simplicity, and service.
Fr. Ken Dogbo, OSJ