Sunday, August 29, 2010

Year C Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Sir. 3:17-18.20.28-29-; Ps 68:4-7.10-11; Heb. 12:18-19.22-24a; Luke 14:1. 7-14

You would have to be pretty inattentive not to discern that the main theme taken up in today’s readings is humility, our need to be humble. Humility is what is called a natural virtue. When we speak of natural virtues, we are talking about those attributes and characteristics that make us better people. So, in speaking of the virtues we are talking about nothing less than striving to be perfect, which means striving to become more like Christ. As with all the natural virtues, humility is acquired through habit, that is, by practicing it. In his parable from today’s Gospel, Jesus gives a great and very concrete example of the kind of practice that leads to acquiring and perfecting the virtue of humility when he instructs the dinner guests that when they are invited to a wedding banquet to "go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position'" (Luke 14:10).

We can define humility as that virtue "by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake" (Catholic Encyclopedia, "Humility"). Of course, there is such a thing as false humility. But, because most of us are naturally quite haughty and puffed up, beginning attempts at practicing humility are bound to look and feel a little false. Of course, it is contrary to humility to draw attention to any attempt we make at being humble. In other words, it is in keeping with the essence of humility that nobody notices you are trying to be humble. So, the only truly false humility is what we might call ostentatious humility; attempts at being humble aimed at showing everyone how humble you are.

In age in which everyone grows up wanting to be famous, humility, along with modesty, is becoming rarer all the time. It seems that to get anywhere in life we are forced to become tireless self-promoters. Turning back to our definition of humility, you are humble because, if you are really honest with yourself, you are aware of your defects and understand the need to submit yourself to God. Some defects, like procrastination, seem to be universal, while others may be more peculiar to you. Your defects, by the very fact that you recognize them as such, move you to look for ways to overcome them, which means nothing less than overcoming yourself, getting over a lifetime, or at least many years of bad habits. When it comes to the natural virtues it is the case that practice makes perfect, or, as a football coach of mine used to remind us during the end of the second practice of the day in the heat of August- "Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect."

Even with the natural virtues, while you can make considerable progress through your own efforts, to really be brought to perfection, to practice them perfectly, you need help, that is, you require grace. Just as the Lord gives us very concrete examples of how to practice humility in today’s Gospel, there is a concrete way of understanding how grace perfects nature. Just as any initial attempt to practice the virtue of humility will feel a little forced, it is not uncommon to fail, either at the beginning of your attempt, or later, especially after you feel you have made real progress, only to realize in a single moment that maybe you have made no progress at all. Your natural reaction to failure is to be discouraged and be sorely tempted to give up, seeing yourself as hopeless. To see things in this way, especially to be tempted to despair, is to act as though you can do it all on your own, without help. The fact that you realized you have failed is a grace in and of itself. It is useful insofar as you take it to the Lord, imploring his help. If your failures are serious enough, or frequent enough, or even just bothersome enough, the place to seek succor is in the sacrament of penance, going to confession.


The grace we receive in this sacrament is something too many of us are willing to live without. There are two reasons for this, as far as I can tell. First, you are too proud either to see that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, or because you see yourself as able to obtain this grace on your own without the benefit of the sacrament, effectively saying you don’t need the church. I remind you that even in the prayer of absolution, Christ gives you pardon and peace and absolves you of your sins only through the ministry of the church, thus reconciling you to God and to your sisters and brothers, with whom you gather around the table of the Eucharist. Besides, I am hard-pressed to think of a better way of practicing humility than by going to confession on a regular basis. The second reason many do not drink from this fountain of grace is that, in a bizarre instance of pride that wears the mask of humility, some think their sins bigger, wider, or deeper than God’s mercy given us in Christ Jesus; or, foolishly worry whether or not God will forgive them. My friends, you do not go to confession in order see whether or not God will forgive you; because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ you are always already forgiven, you to go to confession in order to realize this fact and to see firsthand why it matters to you.

If the humble person realizes anything he realizes that he is a beggar, impoverished, a person in need. As Fr. Julián Carrón observed recently, "We must ask for this grace; we must go like poor men to eat the bread that is called Eucharist… We are well aware that we need, as beggars, to get in line, and go limping to receive the food we can’t get by without… In the same way, we must go to beg for and receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, to start all over again every time we fall" (Can A Man Be Born Again, Once He Is Old? pg. 48). God not only makes "a home for the poor," but feeds us with his body and blood.


So, caring for the materially poor- for the person in need- is something the truly humble person, especially the one who knows God’s mercy firsthand, hastens to do. As the last phrase of our reading from Sirach says, "alms atone for sins" (Sir. 3:29). This brings up two other disciplines that are necessary for anyone who follows Christ: fasting and prayer. These three practices(alms-giving, fasting, and prayer), one flowing from the other, are efficacious for acquiring all the virtues. In fact, Jesus’ exhortation to "invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind" to any banquet you might hold, instead of friends, relatives, and wealthy neighbors, who will repay you in kind, should put us in mind of what Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, a passage we read each Ash Wednesday, about alms-giving, praying, and fasting, namely that if you do these things in order to draw attention to yourself, you already have your reward(Matt. 6:1-6). Jesus says that by acting charitably towards those who cannot repay, "you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous" (Luke 14:14).

My dear friends, in Christ, our Mass readings these past several weeks are very challenging. Through these words the Lord, in addition to drawing our attention back to what it means to truly follow him, which amounts to serving others selflessly for his sake, calls each one of us to renew our commitment to following to him, which means letting go of what English church commentator Damien Thompson calls our "happy clappy" notions and begin living life with more seriousness and rectitude, which is a paradox, like losing your life for the Lord’s sake is the only way to save it, and is the path to true joy.

3 comments:

  1. How I have missed your Writings!

    I am getting so caught up in other "Tangible" things lately that I am being deprived of my Spiritual Nourishment via your words...

    I am going to try my darndest to create some type of Routine! I need to! I am neither writing nor reading! My Two Favorite things...

    Time...it just won't give me time...

    LOVED your Humble Post, BTW...
    As I started reading it I couldn't help but be reminded of the NEVERENDING battle for Humility...

    When we work so hard at being Humble, and we Finally are Being Humble, we then Become PROUD that We ARE HUMBLE and Thus wind-up having to start ALL OVER AGAIN! ;)

    God Bless!!

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  2. I love you passion and desire. Writing, it feels good to do less of it. It also helped to be out-of-town, choosing not to bring my laptop.

    Your writing is great. Routines are good. Even before deciding to cut back, I was spending a lot less time composing posts. I look back sometimes and I am kind of amazed at some of things I managed to post.

    As I wrote, I don't want to become a hack. I want to write original things in an insightful way. Blogging is a natural fit for me because I am free. Anyone who wants to read what I wrote is free to do so, or not to do so. I am beholden to no one. I don't even have a blogmeter on this site. I have no idea how many people visit here. My guess is not many. I went through the whole struggle about why I blog. Initially I would very discouraged, but I realized that if I couldn't just write and throw it out there, not really caring what happened, then it would be best not to blog.

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  3. Your Humility boggles the mind!

    I found you due to your Traffic. Imagine that.

    You know, I feel very trapped, I guess is the word.

    I started my Blog with a genuine intention. I wanted and strove to keep it, well, "holy" in the aspect that it would be my take on the Church. How I interpreted Fr.'s Homily's. He is a very Charismatic Speaker, and the way he expresses himself...very in your face and to the point, which I Love!

    And then...well, writing has always been cathartic for me, as I'm sure for many. Writing, the ability to SEE what I think, many times helps me to place, to put things in order. And I find myself doing that a bit too much. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing...just perhaps not the right Blog for it. Does this make sense?

    Here's the flipside though...as a Human Creature, I know that I am flawed, that we all are. I know that we live in a fallen world. And the fact that I do sit "in the pews" does not exempt me from this status. Therefore, many times I say to myself, I am in the pews, I sit in the Hospital for Sinners, so why not represent that as well. It would also make the Blog a Witness of sorts. Because though I am a Sorry, Sinful Creation, and though I sit in such a Holy Place, and though I sin repeatedly, I still TRY to reach that Straight and Narrow...

    Great, I just used your space to "visualize."

    I guess I am grateful that I have become so busy with other activities and Blog less, because I can completely empathize with your becoming a Hack dilemma. That is precisely what I was doing. Not because I lacked topics, but because I was,err, I AM limiting myself.

    This is where your final statement drives the point home for me...Perhaps, just maybe, I should just "throw it out there."

    Thanks for the insight, as usual!

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