The View From Mount Humility

by Angela Lambert

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August 28th, 2016; 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 14:1,7-14  NAB

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, 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.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Meditation Reflection:

If pride comes before the fall, once could say humility comes before the ascent.  Our selfie-culture promotes self-assertion and our own honor and fame, bolstering pride and feeding competitiveness.  Yet, studies have shown that the social media craze can make persons feel depressed as they strive to compete with the seemingly perfect and glamorous lives of their friends based on the pictures they post.

I can certainly relate.  It seems like the night I order pizza for the kids someone posts a colorful, healthy, made-from-scratch dinner their family is enjoying.  As I take a mental break from the tedium of work, I see a post of someone’s adventurous travels.  When I take a moment to relax after having a difficult parenting day, I see a pictures of friends with their smiling kids, dressed in clean matching clothes, doing a fun family activity.  The temptation can be to respond by working on one’s own image and creating the appearance of similar importance and prestige (the definition of which varies based on what’s important to you).  In Jesus’ time, one’s image and importance could be seen by where one sat at the table. It’s not much different however than seeking social recognition online, at work, or amongst one’s peers based on achievements, physical appearance, or possessions.

For every vice with which one struggles, St. Francis de Sales advises conquering it by aiming for the opposite virtue.  To combat pride therefore, one must cultivate humility.

Humility does NOT mean self-hate or false modesty.  Rather, it refers to an authentic and accurate view of one’s worth as well as the worth of others.  Pride takes many forms as we vie with one another for our place – some obvious and others subtle.

Merriam-Webster defines humility as “not thinking of yourself as better than other people.” God revealed the inherent dignity of every human person by creating each one in His image and likeness (independent of differences in appearance or abilities) and by Christ dying on the cross to save each and every one of us.  If God would become man, to suffer and die for someone, how can I not value them as anything less than priceless?  It doesn’t make me any less, but it also means I’m not anything more.     C.S. Lewis captured this mystery well in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”.  In it, he reflects on the grandeur of the human person, whose immortal nature will share in the either the horror of hell or the magnificent glory of God in Heaven.  He writes:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

In consequence, we need not honor others because we think so little of ourselves, but rather because we rejoice in our shared glory as sons and daughters of God.

A second reflection on humility relates to a definition which can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which defines it further in this way:

“Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth, and submits himself to others. According to this meaning no man can humiliate another, but only himself, and this he can do properly only when aided by Divine grace.”

“Submitting oneself to others” is verbiage that sounds as archaic as the Latin in which it was originally written.  In our anti-authroity, “look out for #1” society this just seems antiquated.  I have been blessed however to experience the receiving end of this idea and I will admit that it creates a loving, peaceful community.  Just the other day, I walked in late to a meeting at work and a co-worker saw my need as I scanned the full room futily for an open seat.  He waved me over,  reached for a folding chair next to the wall, then opened it for me in an open spot he had found.  It made me feel cared for and respected.  Similarly, I am blessed to work at a place where colleagues regularly open the door for one another, ask genuinely how one is doing, and offer help whenever they see a need. This practice of showing deference toward others, far from demeaning one, creates esteem.

As a parent however I am finding it ever more difficult to create a sense of deference in my children.  On a recent road trip they argued that I was being a hypocrite because I made them take turns between the bucket seats in our van and the back seat but I always got to sit up front.  “Why do you get to sit up front?” they asked, “and why don’t you have to take a turn being squished in the back bench seat?”  “Because I’m an adult” I replied.  It seemed obvious to me. That thought would never have crossed my mind as a child. I had done my time sitting in the back as a kid.  Yet, it was not so obvious to them.  A similar incident occurred during a trip for my sister’s wedding. My dad had graciously rented a mini-van to help drive us as well as other extended family around.  On one excursion my aunt decided to come along and my kids began to fight over who had to give up a bucket seat for her.  She kindly offered to sit in the far back which, I remarked, was virtuous of her, but denied my kids the opportunity to practice virtue themselves.  Much like Jesus’ parable, her humility resulted in being urged to a place of honor (even if its’ prime seating in a van!), whereas one of my children had to be scolded and moved to the back.

Practicing deference shows love and respect.  It means honoring one another rather than grasping at it for oneself.  This doesn’t mean you will be destined to be a doormat, but as Sirach proclaims in chapter 3:17-18:

“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Paradoxically, when we celebrate and appreciate others, we ourselves experience celebration and appreciation too.  Moreover, by valuing what truly maters in others, we learn to value ourselves more authentically as well.  It means we feel secure in our worth as sons and daughters of God.  We feel loved for who we are and not just what we can do.  It frees us to be teachable and learn from those who know more or have more experience.  It also frees us to mentor others in love rather than pride who could learn from us.  This builds the kingdom of God and gives us a taste of the wedding feast of heaven, where everyone rejoices in the grace of God and the work He has accomplished in the souls of every person there, including ourselves.

Jesus accepted the invitation to dine at the home of a leading Pharisee.  Humility does not therefore entail avoiding all social opportunities.  Instead, Christ exhorts us to evaluate the reasons for our decisions and to be aware of the snares of subtle pride.  Christ dined with the Pharisee to teach, heal, and save.  Others had come to be taught, healed, and saved.  Still others, Jesus observed, concerned themselves with image, honor, and their place at the prestigious table.  Jesus teaches us to celebrate the honors of others and thereby frees us from the striving and grasping after notoriety.  Instead of de-valuing your own worth, it actually means you feel secure and content with who you are and it frees you from judging yourself in comparison to others.  A good friend of mine once said, “to compare is to despair.”  I have found that to be true.  If however you take joy in other people you will be happy in any circumstance – either celebrating their successes, or being thankful to be in a position to offer help if they are in need.

Consider:

  • In what ways or areas do you sometimes over-estimate yourself? In what ways or areas do you sometimes under-estimate yourself?
  • Consider the deference Christ shows toward you by dying on the Cross for you, inviting you into relationship with Him, and transforming your life with his grace.
  • How might you show greater deference and humility toward others?
    • In your home and family.
    • Toward your peers and colleagues.
  • Reflect on the relationship between being humble and being teachable.
  • Consider the relationship between humility and service.
  • Consider the relationship between being humble and accepting the responsibility of leadership.
  • How does Christ model true humility in each of these ways?
    • Think of His obedience to Mary and Joseph.
    • Consider His relationships with His family, friends, and disciples.
    • Reflect on His humiliation on the Cross to elevate us.
  • With whom, or in what situations, do you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image the most? Invite Christ to help you with His grace to acquire peace and humility in that.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Litany of Humility each day this week.
  • Choose one person or area of your life in which you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image. Each morning this week, decide on one way in which you can practice humility in relation to that person or situation.
    • Examples: Towards Persons – ask him/her for help when needed, offer assistance, encouragement, or praise. Toward situations – Let others speak first at meetings, choose a simpler hair style or clothing for the day, invite a visitor in even if the house is a mess.
  • ~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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