HOMILY – AUGUST 27-28
My old baseball coach back in grade school taught all of us lots of life lessons. One of them was the relationship between the civic virtue of sportsmanship and the spiritual virtue of humility, which we were learning about in the Catholic school. Now, I didn’t have a whole lot to be proud of in the way I attempted to play baseball. But on those rare occasions when I actually did something right, like getting on base without the help of an error by the other team, I knew better than to do any more than mumble “Thanks” if someone congratulated me. “You did your job,” we were told. “Now keep your feelings to yourself. Let other people do the cheering.”
That attitude and demeanor became common to hear during and after 9/11, when so many fire fighters and police officers were asked about how they had dared to rush into buildings from which everyone else was rushing out. “I was just doing my job,” they would almost unanimously reply. If a spectacular rescue was accomplished, they would attribute it to their training, and quickly note that it was all teamwork, and that any member of the team would have done the same thing, and probably done it better.
Humility is the lesson we have refreshed for us in the Scriptures today. The word comes from humus (HYOO-muss), which means earth, dirt. From humus, we get the word human, because, according to Genesis 2, we were formed by our Creator “from the dust of the earth.” And from those words, we get humility, which is the virtue of recognizing WHO AND WHAT WE REALLY ARE. And who and what we are is so surpassingly special that we really cannot express it in mere human words. God’s Word sings the praises of his human creations. Regarding man, Psalm 8 says, “You have made him little less than a god, with glory and honor you crowned him.” That’s all of us, men and women, boys and girls. Each of us has an honor and a dignity given by God himself, in whose image we are made. We have to remember that about ourselves, and it is especially important to remember it about others – ALL others, especially those in whom the recognition of some dignity might be particularly difficult for us.
Humility is not something that you put on only when you want to use it for your own advantage. We quickly become transparent to everyone but ourselves when we attempt to do that. Insincerity and humility are entirely incompatible. So Jesus’ lesson in the Gospel today is not just a lesson in table etiquette. He’s not telling us to take the lowest place at the table JUST SO our host can invite us to a more prominent position. Our whole attitude, our whole LIFE as Christians must have as our model Jesus himself, who came “not be served, but to serve.” If you’re always alert to opportunities to be of service to others rather than waiting to be served yourself, you won’t have TIME to think about what’s coming to you. And you won’t have to be preoccupied with becoming holy. Holiness and humility are closely related: the more you try to be noticed for them, the more you lack either one. Get your focus off yourself, your privileges, your prerogatives, and start focusing on others, their needs, how you can help. If they tell you to go fly a kite, humility won’t let you waste a moment licking your wounds. Insults and disrespect will wash off you like water off a duck’s back, as you quickly find others to quietly assist. You will accept discipline and correction as something that comes from God himself, difficult at times, but always worthy of consideration. Why? Because you know that truth is not yours to determine alone. Humility makes us servants of the truth, and the truth sets us free. Believe it. Try it, over and over again. When pride makes you fail, laugh and realize that that’s why we PRACTICE virtue – we can always get better at it!