Three ways to grow in humility: A homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

praying-and-kneeling-manToday our readings tell us to be humble, that the way to live a good life, a Christian life, is to be humble, to get over ourselves already. St. John Vianney said, “What sweetness there is in forgetting about ourselves in order to seek God!”  Which is to say, as the saying goes, that humility is not about thinking less about ourselves, but thinking about ourselves less. To live a good Christian life, we have to get over ourselves.

Humility is realizing that others have better ideas than I do, that, even with the opinions I am most passionate about, I might not be right–and I don’t have to be.  Sometimes I think I have the best homily ever, and then I listen to Msgr at one of his Masses and I wonder how I misunderstood the texts so horribly.  You know, the most wonderful and beautiful people I know realize and admit they are not perfect, that they are not the best.  The most obnoxious people I know think they are perfect and try to fool the world into thinking the same thing.

This morning I had children’s liturgy of the word. One kid from our school, when I asked what humility is, said, “it means you don’t have to be the best.”  That’s about the best definition of humility I’ve ever heard!  I think a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to be the best, and trying to prove to the world that they are the best. It is hard work being perfect! Our Jesus is so good that he says, “Look! You don’t gotta be the best….you can’t be, and that’s okay, because I am!”

We don’t have to be the best, we don’t have to be perfect.  Oh, we should keep on trying to get better, trying to become holier and more virtuous and more perfect, but humility is about realizing that it isn’t all about us, that we aren’t the center.  For that reason, in the Gospel, Jesus says to take the lesser positions at the table.  A lot of us want to be the center, or at the head of the table. Think even about the table of the Lord, the holy altar. Here, Jesus is the center.  Sometimes, if we aren’t careful, we can forget this and imagine the priest to be the head of this table.  The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Sarah, he’s the guy Pope Francis put in charge of safeguarding the liturgies of the holy church. He was talking recently about ad orientem worship, the ancient way of celebrating Mass where the priest faces the same direction as the people at Mass, the east (the direction from which Jesus will return says the scriptures). This is still the way Mass is done in many parts of the world–and the Missal certainly allows for it–and it was how Christians had Mass for hundreds of years. Cardinal Sarah said that ad orientem worship expresses very naturally the fact that Jesus is the center, the focal point of this table and every part of our life. Not the priest, not any nun or bishop or pope. It’s Jesus!

I just want to mention three ways to grow in humility, three ways we can grow in our not always needing to be in the center, at the head–three ways we can get over ourselves.

First, we pray.  To pray is to acknowledge that we depend on God. God is our strength. Our abilities, no matter how great, are never enough. We need God, we need his church, we need the bible, we need the sacraments. Sometimes we feel this need for God very strongly, in moments of failure. The Little Flower said, “the beginning of all holiness is humble admitting that without God we can do nothing, but that with, in, and through him, everything is possible.”  A humble man kneels every day and prays, each day, knowing that he can’t do a thing without the Lord.  A side note: I think often our prayers are very prideful, very me-centered. I know I have that problem.  A humble person spends a lot of time in prayer, and spends more time praying for others than himself.

Second, we give.  It takes a humble person to have the time of day for another person.  I think a lot of people would prefer to think that the universe depends upon them.  There is a lot of selfishness in our world.  Generosity is the antidote.  The humble man is generous with his time, with his blood, with his sweat, with his money–knowing that it’s better to serve than to be served, knowing that there is something more important than his liesure time and money.  We have a ministry fair after Mass today.  There are so many ways to give back to God here at OLG.  If you are humble, you will sign up for something.

Third, we offer thanks.  A humble person is thankful.  Perhaps you noticed in the Olympics that most of the winners are devout Christians.  I’m thinking especially of swimming champion Katie Ledecky–she went to Catholic school as a kid–and David Boudia and Steele Johnson.  They all said in their interviews, before anything else, that they are thankful to God…not to their coaches, their training regimes, their diets, their trainers: no, they are thankful first to God.  They know their strength and successes and even their crosses–they are gifts from God, a gift that deserves an offering of thanks.

There we have it: three ways to be more humble–pray, give, and offer thanks.

I will end with a nice traditional prayer called the litany of humility:

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…