Homily for Ordinary Time 25
September 23, 2018
The great American Catholic laywoman of the twentieth century, Dorothy Day, was well-known for her love for the poor. She opened up her home to homeless people and often served them from morning until night. Her activism on behalf of the poor gained her significant fame, and she was interviewed by several newspapers and published several books and numerous articles.
One day, a newspaper reporter wanted to do an article on her, so he traveled to the local soup kitchen where Dorothy could often be found serving the poor. He found the famous woman engaged in a loving conversation with a dirty, smelly, drunk homeless woman in ragged clothes. When the reporter approached, Dorothy looked up at him and asked simply, “Did you want to speak with one of us?”
This is a pretty good definition of humility. This famous, holy activist thought herself no different from the dirty and drunk homeless woman. To Dorothy Day, all had the same dignity; all deserved the same respect.
There are certain virtues that are very well-accepted by secular society. Kindness, generosity, compassion – all of these virtues could just as easily be found in a public school classroom or a company’s brochure as they would be found in church. But certain virtues seem very strange to the world. For example, few in the secular world would find “chastity” to be a virtue – it’s just too countercultural! Likewise, very few people would see “humility” as a worthwhile virtue – you don’t see that proclaimed as a value very often!
This is, in part, because we don’t understand what humility is. Humility is the virtue of knowing yourself well, not thinking too highly of yourself, and recognizing that any talent or gift that you have is a gift from God. The humble man does not deny that he is good at a certain thing, or that he possess certain gifts, but rather recognizes that he has them only because God has given them to him.
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that virtue is the midpoint between two extremes – and this is certainly true of humility! On one extreme, we have pride – precisely what the Apostles were arguing about in the Gospel. They want to be first! They are puffed up in their own minds, thinking that they’re “all that and a bag of chips” (as the saying goes).
Jesus’ response is not just a spiritual truth – it makes sense on a natural level, too. He replies that “if anyone wishes to be first, he should be the last of all and the servant of all.” Consider this – does anyone enjoy being around someone who is prideful, who brags and boasts? Of course not. They are obnoxious and a boor. There’s an old story about a man who was just named Vice President of his company, which puffed him up with pride. He went around boasting for several weeks about his promotion, until his wife finally said in frustration, “You think you’re so great, being Vice President? Everyone becomes a Vice President these days. Heck, down at the grocery store, there’s a Vice President of peas.” The man wanted to call his wife’s bluff, so he called the local grocery story and asked, “May I speak with the Vice President of peas?” To which the receptionist responded, “Fresh or frozen?”
The opposite of pride, though, is a type of false humility. This is when people refuse to believe that they have any gifts whatsoever. We’ve all met people like that – we say to them, “That was an amazing piano recital! You have such a gift!” And they respond, “Oh, no, I’m not really very good.” Or they overly focus on their negative aspects instead of recognizing how God has blessed them. Think of Eeyore – he’s a perfect example of false humility!
So, real humility is in-between pride and false humility. A truly humble person knows who they are, recognizes their gifts, and gives glory to God for any accomplishments. A humble person is not puffed up by success; nor are they crushed by failure.
So how do we grow in this virtue? Three suggestions:
First, imitate the lives of humble people, especially Jesus and Mary. Mary is a beautiful example of humility – here she is, the most privileged human being to walk the face of the earth, but she gives all glory to God. When her cousin Elizabeth says, “You are truly blessed among women!”, she doesn’t deny it. Rather, she responds by saying, “My soul glorifies the Lord” – she points to Him Who gave her the gift of being the Mother of the Savior.
Jesus, too, is a shining example of humility. The King of the Universe didn’t think it was beneath His dignity to become a shivering baby in a stable. The Lord of all creation allowed others to beat Him and crown Him with thorns and hang Him on a cross. His humility was the vehicle through which His love shone through.
A second way to grow in humility is to do humbling things. Clean the bathroom; take out your own garbage. Vacuum your own house; purchase the simpler car. It’s awfully hard to be puffed-up in pride when you’re scrubbing a dirty dish or driving a Mazda! Many ad campaigns tell you, “You deserve it – you deserve the vacation, the fancy dinner, the expensive purse.” Instead, purposely choose to do things that will make you realize that you’re not the center of the universe.
A final way to grow in humility is to stop thinking and talking about yourself! There was once a man at a party who blathered on and on about himself: his accomplishments, his bank accounts, his job, his kids. People were getting bored listening to him talk about himself. Finally, he concluded by saying, “Well, I’ve talked too long about myself. So let me ask you about yourself – what do you think of me?” But humble people don’t often talk about themselves. As Pastor Rick Warren once said, “Humility doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself…it means thinking of yourself less!” To grow in humility, don’t overly think of your gifts, your problems, your accomplishments.
My friends, the greatest of all sins is pride. This is the sin that caused the Devil to rebel against God – he wanted to be greater than the Lord! The antidote to pride is humility – knowing ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing that all that we have and are is a gift from God. I will leave you with a powerful quite from St. Padre Pio: “Humility and purity are the wings which carry us to God and make us almost divine.”