Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 29, 2017
Humility Before God
A millionaire was hosting a banquet and he invited many of his friends and associates. The dinner conversation turned to religion, and the rich man began to scoff at the value of it. He said, “I have everything I need – if I am ever in need of anything, I have the money to buy it. Why would I need to pray to God? What could God give me that I don’t have?”
One of the men there, a devout believer, replied, “There is one thing that you might pray for.”
“What’s that?” asked the rich man.
He replied, “You might pray for humility.”
If there was one virtue that God cherishes the most, it is humility. Recognizing our need for and dependence upon Him. Pride makes ourselves into a god – but humility recognizes that there is a God, and I am not Him!
Recently I was sent a video which was, unfortunately, showed in the Greenwich public schools as part of the 8th grade social studies curriculum. This video was discussing the causes of poverty in the world, and the narrator noted that all of the poorest countries in the world had the highest rate of religion, while the richest countries were the least religious. The video erroneously concluded that for poor countries to get richer, they ought to abandon religion which, as they said, focused only on Heaven and never focused on improving the lives of those on earth.
Not only is that conclusion wrong, it also misses the real link between religion and wealth. I believe that the poorest countries are religious because they are steeped in humility – they recognize their utter dependence on God, even for their daily bread. By contrast, the richest countries are the least religious because when we grow in wealth and self-sufficiency, it is easy to become prideful and start to think that we are our own saviors, that we are our own gods.
In some sense, I think this is why God allows us to undergo trials and suffering. When we are in a hospital bed, it’s hard to be prideful. When we are struggling financially, it’s hard to rely upon our own efforts. Trials keep us humble – and humility is pleasing to the Lord!
Our readings today talk about God’s exclusive preference for the humble. Only if we are poor enough will God give us the riches of His grace; only if we are foolish enough will He fill us with His wisdom. If we are too full of ourselves, we cannot be filled with Him!
There is a wonderful story of St. Augustine who had to learn humility the hard way. He had been struggling, for some time, to understand the mystery of the Trinity. He just couldn’t fathom how there could be three persons in one God. He spent days and days pondering this mystery. Finally, in frustration that he couldn’t figure it out, he went for a walk along the seashore. While doing so, he saw a young boy trying to pour water into a hole he dug in the sand. Back and forth the boy went – he would fill up his bucket from the ocean, then go back to the hole and dump out the water, before returning to the ocean again.
After watching for some time, Augustine asked, “What are you doing?”
The boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole!”
Augustine laughed and said, “That’s impossible! The ocean is much too large to fit into that hole.”
To which the boy replied, “It is easier for me to fit the ocean into that hole than for you to figure out the mystery of the Trinity.”
Augustine realized he had been seeing an angel, who gave him a great dose of humility that day!
So what does humility look like in our relationship with God? For one thing, it means that we pray like our life depended on it – because it does! God is not merely a crutch but our very life-breath, our only hope. As a drowning man is desperate for a gasp of air, so our souls should do anything for a breath of God.
When we pray, too, we must accept God’s ways and His will. We often want to know answers – why did bad things happen, why did my life have to turn out this way. It’s natural to ask these questions, but humility demands that we must trust God when He does things we do not understand. As a priest once said in a funeral homily, “All of us are asking why this young man was killed in the prime of his life – but I believe that Heaven will be one big time of exclaiming, Oh, so THAT’S why You did that, Lord!” We humbly trust that God’s plan is bigger and better than ours.
Humility realizes that we are sinners. We are never more humble – and never more pleasing to the Lord – than when we are on our knees in the confessional, recognizing our weaknesses and begging from Him the strength to be holy.
It also means that we humbly accept the teachings of the Lord through His Church. The difference between the disciples and the Pharisees is that the disciples were willing to be taught, while the Pharisees, in their pride, refused to hear Him. I always cringe when I hear someone say, “I disagree with what the Church teaches about X” – because that is a type of veiled pride. It says, “I know better than two thousand years of the holiest and wisest people who ever walked the earth, and I know better than the Church that Christ Himself guaranteed would never fail.” When faced with a teaching we don’t understand, we can question it, we can study it, we wrestle with it – and ultimately we ought to submit to it out of humility.
My friends, humility is the virtue that pleases God the most. We may fail in charity, but God can forgive that. We may struggle with lust or greed or laziness, but God can forgive that. But God can only rescue a person who is humble.