Today’s Gospel theme of humility that Jesus preached is not so much about putting ourselves last, but about putting God first in our lives. Thus, humility is Truth; Truth is about the reality of ourselves in the light of our relationship with God. And if we can live in God’s Truth and Ways, we will have the gift of wisdom.
Jesus in today’s Gospel explains this graphically by telling us that if we go to a wedding feast, we should occupy the last seat and not grab the front seat of honour. Why? Jesus is very bluntly saying, “Don’t think too highly of yourself; there are other more important guests; our fall often comes with pride. If this should happen, would we not be totally embarrassed?
So, Jesus advises us, “When you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, ‘my friend, move up higher.’ In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
On Wednesday night of last week, when the whole parish and Kingsmead Hall were shut down because of our need to reconnect our new power cables, someone came along at 10.20 pm and complained that our machine was too noisy; I will spare you the details; then again just past midnight, another person came by to say that our generator that we humming was too loudly.
Was I upset at these people? No, I was not. Actually, I felt sorry for them because it seems to me that while their complaints are valid, they do not seem to be aware that there are needs of people that are beyond their own needs. This example is not about criticizing others; it is about pointing out the truth of today’s Gospel that you and I are challenged to accept.
To have humility, we first of all need to have more awareness of the reality of the world around us. We neither exist alone in this world nor is reality confined to our own personal and family needs. There is a reality that is outside us; bigger than us and in many ways, more important than us and our needs.
Humility begins with awareness of the Truth. There are different levels of truths that we are called to be more fully aware of. The simplest form of truth is to learn to “respect one another”, let alone forgive, love and serve one another.
If we lack awareness of the reality around us, we will lack the humility and thus will be blind to the truth that must be respected. Practical examples of such basic truths are as follows, “What attitude do we have when we drive and park our cars in our Parish? Are we aware of the needs of others when we are obstructing and unnecessarily holding others back? What attitudes do we have towards Mass? How aware are we that we are disrupting and distracting the solemn celebration in different ways, whether it’s the way we dress, come in late, make noise by talking, allowing our hand phones to ring and the like?
To bring these to a more serious and deeper level it is also good to ask ourselves, “What attitudes do we have towards our children’s need to be formed in their faith? How serious are we about the Truth of God in our lives? Do we put our children’s piano lessons, examinations and the like as having higher importance than attending catechism classes, or being involved in Church activities? Do we tell our children that it’s okay to sleep or study for our exams and not come to Mass? In short, how important is God in our lives?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, humility is more than allowing someone to pass by us at the door, that’s more about courtesy than humility. The highest form of humility is to live the Truth that Christ has taught us and shown us through His life. Humility is having the right perspectives in life; Christ’s perspectives in life.
Humility has many different dimensions – it admits that we are mere finite creatures in this world regardless of how rich or poor, or how intelligent or dull, or how connected or marginalised, or how handsome or handicapped that we are. Humility is knowing and believing that our self-worth is not so much our secular stature, but our connectedness to God, who have created us in His image and likeness, and loves us infinitely and unconditionally regardless of what we have in this world, but who we are to Him, as His sons and daughters.
Once we are aware that humility is more about God in our lives, and not simply be engaging in superficial deeds and having secular views, then we will have the right perspectives of life to grow in the wisdom and holiness. When we shoot an arrow, the target that we are aiming at is our goal; not the arrow. So also, when we live our lives, God’s Glory must be our goal; not ourselves.
Once we have God as our primary goal in our lives and if we are able to challenge ourselves daily to grow in greater awareness of how He wants us to live our lives, then such awareness in humility is living in wisdom and holiness.
There’s a story told by Fr Antony de Mello,S.J. about a person who lived a very godly life which I would like to use here, but adapted accordingly to our needs; let’s call him John. John’s great holiness was precisely because he was not aware that he was holy. He went about living his life very ordinarily, but diffusing goodness the way flowers diffuse their fragrance. John’s holiness was that he looked beyond a person’s past life, appearance and social standings and focused on the very centre of their being. Thus, John loved and forgave everyone he met. He saw nothing extraordinary in this, for it was the result of his way of looking at people.
One day God sent an angel to John and asked him, “John, ask for anything from God it would be given to you.” John was silent. So, the angel said, “Would you wish to have the gift of healing?” “No, I’d rather God do the healing Himself.” “Would you like to bring sinners back to the path of righteousness?” “No, that’s the work of angels.” “Would you like to be a model of virtue that people will be drawn to imitate you?” “No, that would make me the centre of attention.” “What then do you wish for?” asked the angel. “The grace of God is all I need.” “No, you must ask for some miracle,” said the angel. “Well; then I shall ask for this: let good be done through me without my being aware of it.” His wish was granted.
John’s shadow was endowed with healing powers of God. So everywhere his shadow fell – provided he had his back to it – the sick were healed, the land became fertile, fountains spring to life, and colour returned to the faces of those who were weighed down with sorrow. In all of these, through John’s shadow, people began to be drawn to God and glorify God, but John knew nothing of what was happening through him. He became last, that God might be first and glorified.
The opposite of the virtue of humility is the sin of pride. While humility puts others before our own needs and more importantly puts God at the centre of our lives. On the other hand, pride proclaims a self importance that pushes God into the background. St Ignatius of Loyola explains in his Spiritual Exercises that if we have the gift of humility, then our hearts would be the fertile ground for all other virtues to grow and take root. But, if we have pride, our self importance will attract all other vices in life.
When our Lord at the end of today’s Gospel reminds us to invite guests who are not able to repay our kindness, He is urging us to be more like Him. Jesus, the Saviour of the world, the Son of God, giving Himself totally and willingly to die a shameful death out of love for us. And this is so that He can fulfil His Father’s Will to save everyone from damnation to eternal happiness.
In my reflection on how to live in humility, I have earlier raised certain questions about our attitudes as Christians. But, it’s good to reflect on them and try to interiorise them. I will not repeat them here, but, let me conclude and sum up by saying that “humility” is first having the awareness of the truth that reality is bigger than our own self-centered and family needs. Humility is recognising and accepting our need to put God at the centre of our lives as His sons and daughters.
Humility becomes wisdom only when we are able to acknowledge and live as though: There is only one way to live, and that is to live in God’s ways. There is only one reason to live, and that is live out of love for God. There is only one goal in life, and that is to live for God’s Greater Glory. .
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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