Sunday, September 01, 2013

What is humility? (Sunday homily)

One of the key ideas in that first reading, which matches up 
with the episode described in the Gospel: is humility.

What is humility?

A lot of people associate humility and modesty 
with putting oneself down. 
The problem with seeing it that way 
is that there are, often enough, 
people who will gladly put you down. 

It’s no secret, isn’t it, 
that this is what plays out in some of our relationships, 
especially between men and women,
And it is a toxic combination?

Humility is not degradation, being a doormat.
One way to tell if we’re in an unhealthy relationship 
is to try and see if you can put our Lord, 
or his mother, or Saint Joseph in the picture.

If you can’t see Joseph treating Mary that way; 
or Mary treating Joseph that way; 
or Jesus speaking that way to either of them…
Maybe there’s a really obvious reason why?

Also, humility is not denying the goodness of who you and I are.

If you have a talent--
let’s say you have a nice voice for singing: 
it isn’t humility that says, “oh, I can’t sing.” 
Whatever that is, it isn’t humility. 
It might actually be more like pride. 
A few years ago, when I was up in Piqua, 
we had a parish get-together, 
and a number of folks offered to sing, or share a talent, 
as part of the entertainment. 

A little known fact about me: I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra. 
And one of my fantasies would be to belt it out like Sinatra. 

In the shower, that’s exactly what happens!
But when I got up in from of the whole parish…crash and burn!

Was it pride on my part that said, “I can do this!”? Maybe.

But the real moment of pride came after. 
It wasn’t that anyone laughed--
everyone was very kind. 
No, what galled me was that 
instead of being able to wow everyone, 
I ended up being…pretty ordinary.

Pride says, how dare they laugh at me!
Humility says, you know what--it is funny--
and I’ll laugh too!

So, you don’t have to be Sinatra to sing in our choir.
Fact is, that’s not what we’re looking for.
But we are looking for those who will simply share their gift.
There’s a prayer called the “Litany of Humility,” 
which maybe some of you have seen, or even prayed. 

And I remember the first time I looked at it, 
I was a little put off.
At first, it sounded like you were praying 
to be delivered from “being loved,” “being honored,”
And actually asking to be “forgotten” and “despised.”

But then I read it again. And here’s what it actually says:
“Deliver me, Jesus” “from the DESIRE of 
being extolled…honored…praised…” 
And again, it says, “Deliver me” from the FEAR of 
being hurt, or lied about, or forgotten.

That’s a very different thing--and that’s exactly right.

Notice what the Lord suggests we focus on, instead of our ego.
He suggests--no, scratch that--he commands! 
He commands that we look to see who is most poor, 
most powerless, most needy, 
and make sure they get a place at the table.

Some of you have noticed, haven’t you, 
how often I encourage people, especially our young people, 
to consider becoming a brother or sister?

And here’s what I often say:
Which woman, in our time, will--in a thousand years--
have made the greater difference?

Choice A: any political or sports figure you want to name.
Choice B: Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
I’m not putting down any other profession. 

But I’m pointing out that 
one of the most powerful and transformative and admired people 
who lived, in our times, 
was someone who did precisely  
what the Gospel just told us to do-- 
and very little else.

Indeed, if you end up being a doctor or actress, 
or business owner, athlete, artist, or any profession, 
why not do it in a way that puts first 
the needy who are precious to God?

And of course, I’m also pointing out that there are, 
in our midst, those who--
like Mother Theresa, like Father Damien of Hawaii--
Who won’t be really content to do anything other than 
give your life to Christ’s call. 

So don’t dismiss it. It isn’t everybody, but it might be you.
Or your son or daughter.
And parents, before you make light of it, consider this.

St. Francis of Assisi’s father tried to talk him out of it.
Same with Thomas Aquinas’ family. And many others.
Now, I’m guessing St. Francis’ father is now glad he failed! 
So imagine this: would you want to go before God 
as the parent who succeeded in talking Francis out of it?

This life is passing away. 
Christ offers what counts for eternity.
God grant us the courage to grab hold of it with both hands--
and never let go!

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