22nd Sunday: Humility
I want to tell you a made up story about a group of people who shared a common bond in their Church. We’ll say that they were high school kids, although they easily could be middle school kids on one hand or adults of any age on the other hand. It was Monday around lunchtime and Margaret, Denise, Fred, John, Frank and Sally were in their high school cafeteria talking about the wonderful night they had experienced in their Life Teen Group. It had been quite a spiritual session. While they were chatting, Jenny came and joined them. They didn’t know Jenny too well, but they knew that she went to their Church. She had been confirmed with them two years earlier. The Teens continued to talk about their experiences the evening before, when one of them, Fred, realized that Jenny was being left out of the conversation. So he said to her, “Jenny, how come you don’t go to Life Teen. It is really amazing.”
Jenny said, “Well, my family has a custom of going to Church together on Sunday morning, and I really like that. Besides, my Mom is a nurse on the night shift and my Dad is a captain on the police force, so I need to be around on Sunday nights to keep an eye on the little kids in case Dad has to run out.”
Sally, who really never liked Jenny all that much, said, “That’s too bad. You are really missing a lot.” The other kids also chimed in the same things. Jenny was left with the distinct feeling, intended by all, that she wasn’t as good as the others because she didn’t share their experiences.
Now you can substitute Life Teen with any other spiritual experience that might be wonderful for others, but not right for a particular person or, in the case of some of the experiences, a particular couple. Don’t get me wrong. We have been blessed with tremendous spiritual experiences and movements throughout the Church. Here in the United States thousands, tens of thousands, have grown due to Cursillio, Marriage Encounter, Teams of Our Lady, Divine Mercy Cenacles, Franciscan Third Order Groups, and so many more. The Life Teen Movement and the Steubenville Retreats have provided so much for our young people. All of these groups and so many more are sources of blessings for the individuals and for the Church. At the same time the members of these groups have to be careful that they don’t covey the message, “Your spirituality would be so much deeper if you made this experience, this workshop, this weekend.” Maybe it would. Maybe it would not. God works his Grace in different ways for different people. We need to exercise caution here, for if we convey the message that doing this or that, belonging to this movement or that movement, will help others be as good as we are, then we are falling into pride. Pride is seeing ourselves as superior to others.
This is so wrong. We never have the right to consider ourselves, whether as individuals or as members of a group, as superior to anyone else in our relationship to God. What we need to understand is that our position at the heavenly banquet table is determined not by us. It is a gracious gift of God.
Today’s readings speak about humility. This is the virtue we all struggle to obtain because it is the opposite of the fundamental flaw of human beings, pride. We have to make war on that which mankind has been doing since Adam and Eve decided that they really didn’t need to have God in their lives. That is difficult. We are continually thinking about ourselves, and the particular status we should have in our families, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, etc. We forget that we are nothing without God, and everything only because of God.
Ages ago, I had a priest/professor in the major seminary named Fr. Maurice Tiell. Fr. Tiell even spent a few years in Gainesville at the St. Augustine Student Center. He passed away several years ago. Fr. Tiell gave some of the best sermons any of us ever have ever heard. Everybody loved it when he was preaching. He was also a spiritual director available for us almost priests. I used to go to him regularly. One time he told me that he found it very difficult to greet people after a Mass that he offered. He saw the importance of being available for people, but he also felt very uncomfortable because, he told me, he could have given the people so much more if only he were more attuned to God throughout his life. There was a lot of humility there. He felt that anything good that happened as a result of his preaching came from God. More would have come if he were closer to God. That was true humility. Fr. Tiell never considered himself as a better preacher or a worse preacher than anyone else. He just viewed himself for whom he was in his relationship to God. He recognized his place at the table was determined by his relationship with God, not by whether he was superior or inferior to others.
“You have been told, O Man what is good and what the Lord requires of you: only to do right, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” That is Micah 6:8. Perhaps sometimes, you feel, perhaps sometimes, I feel, “I am not good enough.” We are right, and we are wrong. By ourselves, we are never good enough. But the Lord makes us good enough. So, we walk humbly with our God.
So where do we belong at the banquet table? Where should we sit? We belong where the Lord places us. We sit where He tells us to sit. We can not be concerned with where others are sitting. We are only concerned with our response to the unique Grace God has given each of us. To view ourselves as better or worse than others is pride. To recognize ourselves as benefitting from the gratuitous gifts of God, that is humility.