22nd Sunday of the Year


Today's readings are all about the importance of humility. Here is a prayer on humility I find challenging.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
That others may be loved more than I, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should,
O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

This is a tricky prayer, isn’t it? It was composed by Cardinal Merry del Val who was secretary to Pope St Pius X in the early twentieth century. We read in 'Pope Bendeict XV, The Unknown Pope' by John F Pollard (Geoffrey Chapman, London, 2000) that the poor cardinal was given an opportunity to pray this again to himself after the conclave failed to elect him and elected the cardinal sitting next to him in the conclave (Cardinal Della Chiesa) as Pope Benedict XV instead of him to succeed Pope Pius X.

The hardest food to eat is humble pie!

This opposing virtue to pride is a tricky thing to grasp and possess. Humility comes from the Latin word ‘humus’ meaning earth. So we should be humble indeed as the ground we walk on, but we balk at the idea of people walking all over us! Humus (sorry, biology lesson alert) is an essential part of any fertile soil if anything is to grow. It consists of dead organic matter, and a dark soil is rich in it. Farmers and gardeners love to see it. So if we stretch the metaphor a bit, it provides fertile ground for the seed. And how often is the Kingdom of God compared to a seed?

Humility does not sit well with our modern culture that celebrates high achievement, success, getting ahead, winning, and the highest points for college. It applauds the elite. We don’t want to lose out. We want to be ‘up there in lights’ too. There seems to be, in the words of the Queen song, ‘no time for losers’.

Our humility however is a necessary requirement if the Kingdom of God is to grow within. The problem is that humility has all sorts of negative connotations that it is a word we shy away from and prefer modesty instead.Humility can be misunderstood as self-abnegation, self-abasement almost to the point of loss of identity. It seems to conjure up images of submission, slavery, loss of personality and even loss of one’s dignity. By this standard it frowns on self-confidence.

Humility is the recognition of the unvarnished truth about oneself. It is really about an accurate self-portrayal. I shy away from the phrase 'a healthy self-image' because really we are created in the likeness of God. We are not to ‘image’ ourselves!

It is at once the recognition of our strengths and our limitations. It is knowing our need for God’s grace and the duty to apply God-given talents.

There are plenty of people to place us in a box and put us down to discourage us, in order to make themselves appear the stronger and the better. God knows that we are good at doing it to others in case they should rise above their station. It is a peculiarly Irish inclination to scoff and to mock others in case they should succeed or get ahead! Our problem therefore is more often lack of self-confidence rather than an overflow of it.

Humility is not doing nothing. It does not excuse me from playing my part in building up God’s kingdom. But apart from knowing my role, I must more especially know my place! We must avoid excuses for doing nothing because others seem more skilled and qualified. We must avoid unfair comparisons with others that lead us to the conclusion that we are of less worth than others.

Humility is the key to God’s favour. There are plenty of Bible quotes to back this up:

Isaiah 5:21 -Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.
Proverbs11:2 - When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom

Micah6:8 -He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

God says that ‘I am drawn to the humble and contrite man who trembles at my word’, (Isaiah 66:2)

‘The Lord has looked upon his lowly handmaid…the Lord exalts the lowly’ (Mary’s Magnificat: Luke 1:52)

Humility is imitation of Christ himself: ‘Christ was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross’ (St Paul: Philippians 2:8).

I prefer the term ‘surrender’ – to conform my will to God’s. I must acknowledge the talents - be they 1 , 2 or 5, that He has given me, and not worry about who has less or more. I think that the Lord is hitting at the peculiar variation of pride which is vanity. We may desire more notice, attention, notoriety, fame, and being the centre of attention. We displace God from his throne and crown ourselves in the process. It may cut at the heart of my egoism that others gain more influence; I feel aggrieved perhaps that I may be losing out if I am competing for another’s attention or affection and fail to gain either, and lose out to another competitor. I must submit and accept humiliation in these situations, because God looks for a humble heart. People may be oblivious to our hurt pride but it is a painful and necessary lesson. We need to grow up.

If I have humility then I recognize that I am not the centre of the universe, and that life is not about me. I am prepared to acknowledge the achievements and good in others and I know that I am not and cannot be first in everything, the best at everything I do and am not the centre of attention. Most importantly I recognize and allow for what God wants to do in me and through me. All the glory belongs to Him.

To sum up, the Lord wants us to realise that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

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