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09/01/19 Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Fr. Reggie

Humility doesn’t have a good name. It may conjure up images of degradation and abjection or we may think that it means becoming a doormat for others to step on.

But those ideas are both off-target. And God thinks that true humility is vital: in fact, he tells us so in the readings we just heard.

However, it’s important to understand what humility really means. Humility means seeing ourselves through God’s eyes. To belittle the gifts God has given us would be a subtle form of pride. St Benedict used to say that if a monk had a wonderful singing voice and degraded his own ability it would be displeasing to God. So, we should recognize the good, and thank God for it. However, we also need to recognize what is evil in us. The pride, the vanity, the laziness, the lust, and the plain old selfishness that we give in to should bring us on our knees before God to ask for his mercy.   When St Theresa of Avila asked Christ what true humility meant, he replied: “To know what you can do, and what I can do.” And that also brings us to a peaceful humility in our relationship with others. We are not frustrated by others’ sinfulness or lack of virtue, because we know that we’re just like them.

The first reading today, from the Book of Sirach, exhorts us: “Child, conduct your affairs with humility… Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Jesus reprises this idea in the gospel and declares that “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

He’s calling us to see ourselves as God sees us: sinners infinitely loved by God, and in desperate need of his mercy. 

St John Vianney had a difficult parish in the small French town of Ars. Poverty and immoral behavior abounded, and some people resented his efforts to bring new life to the parish. A group of disgruntled and jealous priests from the region gathered together to sign a petition to the bishop requesting his removal as pastor. The ringleaders brought it to St John Vianney to gloat over him. They told him that he was a terrible priest who was destroying the parish. He had no right to be a priest, and he was completely incompetent as a pastor. Saint John Vianney slowly read the petition and saw the signatures at the bottom of the sheet of paper. Then he did something very strange. Carrying the petition, he shuffled over to his writing desk. His opponents tensed, expecting him to try to burn it with the candle guttering on the desk. Instead, he reached for a quill and signed the petition himself! He told the visitors that they were right, that he was incompetent, that someone else could do a better job, and that he hoped the bishop listened to their petition. The bishop did not but was so impressed by the saint’s obvious humility that he left him in the parish in Ars until his death.  

Jesus says, “Learn from me” only one time in the gospels; the phrase concludes “For I am… humble of heart.” Jesus is God, and yet he wasn’t afraid to enter the messiness of human existence. He didn’t claim his rights as God; he came to serve us and to die for us.

We grow in our own humility by contemplating Christ, and we do that above all in the Mass.

The Mass makes present the death of Jesus on the Cross. He did not exalt himself but humbles himself for our salvation.

And Jesus does something else in the Mass too. He transforms bread and wine into his Body and Blood. God desires to be with us so much that he comes under the humble appearance of bread and wine.

We’re about to receive the eternal love and power of God in the Eucharist.  Before we do, we all say something together; we say “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” As we contemplate Christ’s humility, let’s say those words with conviction today. Let’s learn from him how to be truly humble of heart. 

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