Sunday Sermon for September 1, 2013, 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. While this makes perfect sense to most of us, there are very few who can actually accomplish this feat. Sirach tells us further that if we can be humble we will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Our Lord, in the Gospel tells us that if we take the lowest spot and are invited higher we will win the esteem of our companions.
While both of these points are certainly correct, the problem is that without humility they will have the opposite effect. To do something in order to be loved or esteemed is simply a matter of pride and selfishness. If one were truly humble, that person would not be seeking the esteem of anyone, nor would they care if they were invited to a higher position because they do not see themselves as worthy of such treatment.
As we can see, even from this tiny example, humility is easy to talk about in theory, but very difficult to attain. The fact is, as mentioned in the readings, we all appreciate humility when we see it. In fact, most people are quite edified when they are in the presence of a truly humble person. Unfortunately, most of us do not know very many people who are humble and even fewer of us could be included in this category.
We need to pray for humility, but most people are afraid to do this because the only way to humility is through humiliation. We would like it if God would just infuse the virtue into us. While He has the power to do this, normally He does not. Instead, He places us in situations were we have to practice the virtue in order to grow. This is true of all of the virtues, but there are few that seem as dreadful or frightening to people as humility. This simply demonstrates the abundance of pride with which we suffer.
Humility is a necessity for us because it is the companion of charity. Indeed, there is no true charity without humility. These two are so closely linked that we can say that amount of charity we possess will be equal to the amount of humility we possess. Some will argue this point giving as examples a number of well-known people who use their time, money, or ability to help some very good causes. While it is true that they do such things, it is also true that the reason we know about most of these works is because they draw attention to the “charity” they are performing. In other words, it is really about themselves more than the people being helped.
I am not suggesting that the people on the receiving end of these ventures are not being helped; indeed, they are. What I am saying is that if we are doing something for selfish reasons we have already received our reward. We received the accolades we desired and our pride is exposed, no matter how many people benefit from this giving.
As important as this is on the natural level, it is so even more on the spiritual level. This is made clear in the second reading where St. Paul tells us that we have not drawn near to Mount Sinai with all of the extraordinary occurrences that took place there. No matter how many signs and wonders God worked there, the place was still just a natural site. The mountain, by itself, was neither spiritual nor extraordinary; God’s presence there and the Covenant He forged there made the place both spiritual and extraordinary.
St. Paul moves us forward to Mount Zion which is used in reference to Jerusalem, the Temple of the Living God, and the New Covenant made there by our Lord. Mount Zion is a holy place in the Promised Land. Again, by itself, it is a natural place, but St. Paul uses it as a springboard to bring us to the New Jerusalem, the City of the Living God, Heaven itself. This is beyond us, it is supernatural and cannot be grasped by pride or selfishness. Only charity and humility can obtain this blessing.
St. Paul tells us that we have approached this holy place which is the dwelling place of God. In order to enter, we must be convinced of our weakness, our sinfulness, and our unworthiness to be there. This must be a conviction in the heart, not just an acknowledgment in the mind. Such a disposition will lead us to take the lowest spot; this same disposition will allow God to invite us higher. This will make us loved and esteemed by everyone in Heaven, all of whom have the same disposition.
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.