In today’s Gospel Jesus said, “those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” The meaning of this statement is deeper than its surface. Generally, Jesus is reminding us not to think too highly of ourselves or not to over-rate ourselves because regardless of what we have achieved in this world, there will still be thousands and even millions of people who will be greater than us. Perhaps, it might be better for us to under-rate ourselves; this would be less humiliating. More importantly, today’s Gospel is challenging us to get in touch with our true selves.
I would like to begin our reflection on this topic of “humility” by saying what humility is NOT:
The “humility” that Jesus preached in today’s Gospel is not simply about taking the last row in social functions.
Humility is not simply not speaking up at meetings and at home; that’s timidity; not humility.
Humility is not about always following the crowd; never volunteering in any Church activities and always keeping to ourselves; that’s insecurity; not humility.
Humility is not about me saying, “Don’t call me ‘Father’; just call me by my first name, “Philip” and then me acting like a tyrant towards you; that’s hypocrisy; not humility.
Humility is not about letting others go first when leaving a lift; that’s courtesy; not humility.
Humility is also not shying away from sharing your deep personal love for the Lord; that’s privacy; not humility.
What then is the meaning of the “Humility” that Jesus preached in today’s Gospel?
Humility is a way of living that goes beyond our external behaviour and trappings of what we own and what we possess in our lives.
Humility is a way of living and relating with others at a deeper level of their reality. First and foremost, humility is our need to affirm that you and I are children of God; we are sons and daughters of God the Father. This is a very basic and essential reality that we must always keep in mind when we live our lives and relate to others daily.
Thus, humility is more than simply seeing that our maids are working for us because we are paying them a salary. Humility is seeing and affirming the reality that our maids, our gardener, our garbage collectors, and our fellow parishioners who are blocking our cars in the car park are also a child of God and thus, relating to them on that level of reality and truth.
Humility is then a way of living, as a Christian, that respects others and values all peoples as God, Our Lord, would respect them especially the poor and needy, the lonely and depressed who are in our homes, Church, country and the like.
Humility is a virtue that sees the God within us and also in others, and then the quality of relating and reaching out to others in God’s ways.
St Ignatius of Loyola tells us that if we have the virtue of humility, we would have the very basic foundational qualities that we need for all other virtues to grow; and for us to grow in holiness.
Humility is a virtue that can be very painful and demanding on us. It challenges our prejudices and tampers our arrogance. Humility more importantly is about living a Christ-like life. And we all know that living a Christ-like life is never very easy. If our spouse does wrong, humility is not simply about correcting the wrong. Humility is both seeing that our spouse and ourselves as a son and daughter of God the Father, and then challenging ourselves to live the married vocation and nurture it in God’s ways.
Yes, God’s ways are never easy. Jesus says, “Be like me; forgive seventy times seven times.” That’s the Christ-like humility that Jesus preaches. Jesus also says to us in today’s Gospel, “be good and generous to others, but more so to those who cannot repay you.” Such good deeds and generosity comes from a perspective that God sees everything and we should live our lives in God’s ways and out of love for Him. Then, God will reward us with heaven.
When our late Pope John Paul II died, millions were moved to tears and were glued to the TV to watch the historic event. CNN-TV channel covered probably the greatest funeral service in history, for almost a week and for 24 hours each day. Most of the very important dignitaries from all over the world dropped all they were doing and converged to Rome for the service. Even Prince Charles had to postpone his wedding.
The hundreds of thousands who gathered at St Peter’s Square repeatedly chanted, “SANTO SUBITO” which means “Make him a saint”, “We have a saint in our midst!” The power of God’s Spirit was so vibrant in the event that you can’t help it but cry with the crowd and the rest of the world.
Yes, the world recognized the holiness and saintliness of our late Holy Father. “What did he have that we are each struggling and striving to have?” Very simply, our late Holy Father had God deeply rooted in his heart, and witnessed to this truth in the way he lived. He was not holy simply because he was pope. He was holy because he was essentially a very humble man of God.
We know that he was a very intelligent man; healthy for most of his life; he was also handsome and very gifted in so many ways. However, in the last years of his life these “blessings” were gradually removed from him; they began to give way so to speak.
While his sickness exhausted him daily and robbed him of his eloquence and his physical appearance, unlike us, for Our Holy Father, it did not really matter even though it must have been very painful for him. His spirituality was deeper than his looks and health. He continued to face the great crowds with dignity because his reputation and self-image was deeper than what he had externally. His illness did not and could not take away what was most important to him; and that was his faith and love for God. In fact, through his sufferings, Our Holy Father embraced a deeper reality of his faith; he embraced the Cross of Christ; the Suffering Christ into his life.
Through his sufferings, Our Holy Father nurtured his virtue of humility. He was not only able to see and sense the God within himself; he was able to unite his pain and suffering to the Suffering Christ. Indeed, short of martyrdom, our late Holy Father lived the highest form of virtue of humility; a humility that not only lives a life of connectedness with God, as a son of God the Father, but a humility that was willing to go beyond his pains and sufferings and be united with the Suffering Christ.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude this homily on the meaning of humility of the Gospel, let us remind ourselves once again that the humility that Jesus preached is deeper than the external displays of human courtesy, emotional insecurity, timidity, privacy and hypocrisy.
The Gospel on humility is a challenge to you and me to adopt a way of living that God wants of us where we first accept ourselves as a son and daughter of God the Father and thus, not base our self-worth and self-image on what we have and achieved in this life. Second, the Gospel on humility too is challenging you and me to see and treat each other as children of God and respect each other accordingly. For this, we need to affirm the God within us and see the God in others; even if their cars are blocking our cars in the car park, and even if our spouse, relative, maid, stranger or beggar cause us pain and suffering. Our late Pope John Paul II has shown us through is life, how God’s graces is a divine strength that can help us live in ways that human strength and will cannot.
And so, my sisters and brothers in Christ, you and I are today challenged to be more humble; not so much in the secular and thus superficial ways of the world, but in the Gospel ways. Yes, this may be very difficult and painful, but with God’s strength it is not impossible; with God’s graces we are called to take one small step at a time, each day to be more Christ-like. That’s essentially what the Gospel way of humility is about!
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J. celebrating the Eucharist