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Humility is the Mother of Giants

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Homily for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time

CLICK HERE FOR THE YOUTUBE VERSION OF MY SUNDAY HOMILY FROM THE 10 AM MASS 

One day, the famous news correspondent, Walter Cronkite, was sailing down the Mystic River in Connecticut, following the channel’s tricky turns through a stretch of shallow water.  A boatload of young people sped past his boat and its occupants shouted and waved their arms.  Cronkite waved back a cheery greeting and his wife said, “Do you know what they were shouting?” “Why, it was ‘Hello, Walter,'” Cronkite replied. “No,” she said. “They were shouting, “Low water, Low water.'”

“He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 11-12).

Humility is the most basic of all of the Christian virtues.  In order to believe in God, we need to humble.  Humility allows us to believe in someone greater than ourselves.  In order to love, we need to be humble.  Humility allows us to forget ourselves and love our neighbor.

What is humility?  If we were to research a proper definition, we would find that there are a number of definitions of this fundamental virtue.  Of all of the definitions that I have come across, I find the definition from St. Theresa of Avila the most helpful.  She said that humility is living in the truth (“andar en la verdad”).  When you consider this definition carefully, it makes a lot of sense.

We are supposed to live in the truth in our relationship with God, ourselves, and our neighbor.

First of all, we need to remember that God is God and we are not.  We live out our relationship with God by being lovingly obedient.

Secondly, we live in the truth with ourselves by being just who we are and not trying to be something that we are not.

Finally, we live in truth with our neighbor through mutual respect, kindness, and acceptance.  Humble people are delightful to work with and easy to live with.  Humble people make great friends and are always fun to be with.

Humility is not an easy virtue to acquire.  Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

Paedaretos lived in Sparta in ancient Greece. A group of 300 men were to be chosen to govern Sparta. Though Paedaretos was a candidate, his name was not on the final list. Some of his friends sought to console him, but he simply replied, “I am glad that in Sparta there are 300 men better than I am.” He became a legend because of his willingness to stand aside while others took the places of glory and honor.

Humility is a gift.  We need to ask God to make us humble.  But, asking for humility is not enough; we need to do acts of humility.  We have many opportunities every day to do many acts of humility.  The more we exercise the virtue of humility, the humbler we will become.

A famous football coach was on vacation with his family in Maine. When they walked into a movie theater and sat down, the handful of people that were present in the theatre applauded. He thought to himself, “I can’t believe it.  People recognize me all the way up here.” Then a man came over to him and said, “Thanks for coming. They won’t start the movie for less than ten people.”

The opposite of the virtue of humility is pride.  Pride is a very ugly sin that causes terrible disharmony, division and sadness.  Humble people are people filled with joy and peace.  Humble people know how to build community and be team players.  Humble people are wonderful to be with because they are forgetful of themselves.  Humble people are kind and compassionate to all those around them.

The proud cultivate an inflated notion of their own consequence. They attribute to themselves those personal traits, abilities, or attributes that they may not really possess.

Those who are ruled by pride yearn to be accounted superior to all others, to dominate them, to impose their own ideas upon them.  Proud people constantly strive to be singled out, seeking honors and privileges that will set them apart from more commonplace people.

The proud desire the esteem of other people. They thirst voraciously for adulation, and they thrive on it.  They boast of their own qualities and achievements; ostentatious and pompous in their relationships with others, the proud are prone to hypocrisy, assuming the appearance of virtue in order to cover their vices.   The only remedy for pride is the virtue of humility.

Many of the ills that afflict our Catholic Church and our nation at large can be resolved with a big dosage of humility.  We always need to be on guard and never be dominated by the sin of pride.  It is the sin that caused Lucifer to fall from heaven.  “And the Devil did grin, for his darling sin
is pride that apes humility” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Devil’s Thoughts).

Let us remember that words from this Sunday’s gospel passage: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23: 11-12).

The only way that we can get into Heaven is by being humble.  The door of life is a door of mystery. It becomes slightly shorter than the one who wishes to enter it. And thus only he who bows in humility can cross its threshold.

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  We are called to imitate his way of life.  He is the model of humility.  Let us gaze upon his example and live it in our daily lives.  Life would be a lot easier if we all acquired this fundamental virtue.

Acknowledgements:

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