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The Elusiveness of Humility

The following is my homily from this past Sunday

Humility seems to be the virtue that disappears as soon as you talk about it. As soon as you examine yourself and realize you’re becoming humble, are you becoming humble? Or are you becoming proud because you praise yourself for being humble? Like this lady who had been working to acquire the virtue of humility. After three weeks of this, she was talking to her friend and this was the conversation that took place:

"I finally did it! I finally acquired the virtue of humility!" "Gee." her friend said. "I bet you're proud."

"You bet I am!" The woman exclaimed.

We cannot brag about being humble. One preacher used to say, "Humility is something we should constantly pray for, yet never thank God that we have."

Another quote I found is “Humility is like underwear; essential, but indecent if it shows.”

A question we should ask ourselves is, do we see ourselves as God sees us? If we think of ourselves as humble, what do we mean? Humility has a bad name because people don’t know what it really means to be humble. It does not mean to be like a doormat that people step on. Does being humble mean we degrade ourselves and think badly of ourselves? Of course not. One individual who really knows the meaning of humility is Satan, His mission is to make us misunderstand the virtue of humility. C. S. Lewis wrote a book called The Screwtape Letters, which is advice from an experienced devil named Screwtape to a trainee named Wormwood. This is what Screwtape suggests that his Wormwood should do to distort the virtue of humility in the person entrusted to him:

Your patient has become humble; have you drawn his attention to the fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is especially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble”, and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.

Two Dominican priests write of humility in a massive work entitled, The Theology of Christion Perfection: Based as it is on self-knowledge, true humility enables an individual to see himself as he is in the eyes of God, not exaggerating his good qualities and not denying the gifts that he has received from God.

This Sunday's gospel records two stories: the first is a parable about being a good guest; the second is about being a good host. Jesus tells these parables while he is dining at table. The gospel contains two teachings of similar styles. Both start with when, "When you go to a banquet" or " When you give a banquet." Both have a cautioning phrase, "Don't sit at a high place, lest you be put down," and "Don't put out a spread for the rich to impress them, lest you already receive your reward." Both have the teaching, "But when you ..."

The first dinner instruction speaks about who we are before the Lord. We are told that we shouldn't think so highly of ourselves that we put ourselves over other people. Symbolically, we shouldn't move to the best table at the banquet thinking that we are so much better than everyone else. And in our dealings with others, we shouldn’t think we’re better by acting snobbish.

St. Philip Neri was sent by the Holy Father to a convent in the vicinity of Rome. One of the sisters in that convent had a reputation for sanctity, and the Pope wanted St. Philip to verify whether or not it was true. As soon as he entered the parlor, he asked this nun to clean his boots, which were covered with mud after his journey. She replied in no very courteous manner that she was “unaccustomed to doing such work.” St. Philip returned to the Pope and said: “She is no saint and works no miracles, for she lacks what is most essential, humility.”

The second dinner instruction tells us to be sincere, not to be looking for pay-backs. If we are concerned with who they are and not what they can do for us, then we are honoring the Lord who is present within them.

Put both these instructions from Our Lord together and we have this: recognize the presence of the Lord in ourselves and in others and honor that presence. This is Christian humility. Humility is rejoicing in who we all are before the Lord. If we live this way then we, the humble, will be exalted by the Lord. As the prophet Micah put it: "All the Lord wants from us is to do justice and love kindness and to walk humbly before our God." (Micah 6:8)

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