Sunday Sermon for August 28, 2016, the Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Readings: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a; Lk 14:1, 7-14
In the first reading today the Wise Man tells us that we should conduct our affairs with humility and we will be loved by other people. He goes on to say that the greater we are the more we need to humble ourselves; this disposition will find favor with God.
Humility is truth. So Sirach is not asking anyone to deny the truth about themselves.; this would be false humility. After all, Sirach speaks about those who are greater, so some people have a higher position or greater ability than others. They are not to deny these facts, but neither are they to try to take credit for their abilities as if they were obtained solely by their own doing.
It may be true that we have done our part to develop the gifts and talents that we have, but it is God Himself Who gave us these gifts and talents. For instance, consider someone with a great artistic ability: the person is born that way and has done absolutely nothing to gain such an ability. On the other hand, the person has a choice regarding what to do with the ability. In this case, taking classes, reading, learning, practicing, etc. If the person does these things he can take credit for cooperating in developing the talent, but cannot take credit for having the talent in the first place.
The sad thing is that we often brag about such things as our intelligence, our beauty, our natural abilities, and so on. These are all gifts from God for which we should be grateful; they were not given so that we could boast about them. This becomes even more important when we consider the second reading where St. Paul reminds us that we have drawn near to Heaven itself.
The way he presents it is by comparison to what happened at Mount Sinai at the time of the making of the Old Covenant. All that can be said of us because of what Jesus did for us is truly astounding, but we cannot take credit for any of it. When we put this into the context of the Gospel reading, Someone has already called us to come higher. God has chosen us for Himself. This was His choice, not our doing.
We must be careful that we do not forget what and who we are by nature. Regardless of our natural abilities, we were all born into this world with Original Sin, we were slaves to Satan and we were without hope within ourselves. We also know that we have all sinned grievously against God and that if we received from Him what we deserved we would all be spending eternity in hell.
Even though we have been brought higher, we still need to maintain (or, for some of us, obtain) our humility. Remembering where we came from is a good start and remembering Who gave us our abilities, Who brought us higher and why are all good means of staying small in our own estimation.
I am reminded of the man, a very successful business professional, who was at a Board meeting for a major corporation. During the course of the meeting he needed to use his handkerchief. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a large red bandana type handkerchief which brought the meeting to a halt while everyone looked at him in disbelief. He looked around the room and told everyone that he grew up on a farm and that he always carried this kind of handkerchief with him as a reminder of where he came from, the virtues of the people with whom he grew up, and the simple ways of his family. As we heard in the first reading, this gained him the admiration of everyone else in the room.
This man was not ashamed of where he came from nor of who he was. He did not allow what others might think of him to control the way he acted. He maintained his professionalism, but he maintained his humility in the face of his worldly success.
Even though we have been brought to a supernatural level of acting and of being, the actions will be supernatural only to the degree that humility is present so that God can act in us and through us. So, accept who you are and the talents and abilities you have, but be grateful for these and give the credit for all of the good to God. Pray and seek to cooperate with His grace so that people will glorify God rather than you. In this way, your humility will win for you the love of others, but most importantly, it will bring to you the favor of God.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.