Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 28, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 / Ps 68 / Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a / Lk 14:1, 7-14
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
This week, Jesus emphasizes the virtue of humility and next week, detachment. The world sees these two virtues very differently than Christians do. Humility is seen as weakness, and detachment is seen as a lack of drive. For Christians, however, these two virtues are powerful. They help us shrink our ego and fleshly desires so that we can fit through the “narrow gate” Jesus spoke of last Sunday when answering the question about how many will be saved. When our ego and fleshly desires shrink, then our souls can grow.
What is humility? The Christian definition is knowing who you are, and who God is, and not confusing the two. A good role model of humility will help us understand it, especially someone from everyday life. Around 2009, there was an unassuming, elderly usher named Jack at Holy Name of Mary parish. He would greet everyone with a smile while opening the door to the nave for them. Come to find out, he lived alone in my neighborhood. One Christmas I learned that he, a widower, was going to be alone over the holiday, so my wife and I invited him to our home for Christmas dinner.
That night he absolutely glowed while telling us how amazing his wife was, and how successful his children and grandchildren were. He also listened intently to and took joy in hearing our family’s stories. It wasn’t until his funeral that I learned that he was a great man, a Top Gun-type fighter pilot, highly decorated across two wars. He earned a graduate degree from MIT and is recognized as one of the fathers of the GPS. May God exalt you, Jack, for teaching us about humility.
Now let’s look at humility in the scriptures. In today’s first reading from Sirach, a book of wisdom, we hear, “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” Jesus fulfilled these words perfectly. St. Paul best articulated this truth when he wrote that Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man, and obediently accepting even death on the Cross (Phil 2: 6-11). Humility has power. Jesus’ humility is infinitely powerful, and it paid our infinite debt so that we can be with Him in Heaven.
Peter Kreeft had a good take on the second reading from Hebrews, where he contrasts two mountains associated with God’s old law and old covenant and the new law and the new covenant. These are Mount Sinai and Mount Zion. In the reading from Hebrews, it talks about approaching Mount Zion, where the heavenly Jerusalem is. This heavenly Jerusalem is seen by John in the book of Revelation, descending from heaven. It was a vision of the Catholic Church, the mystical body of Christ. In the Old Testament, if the Jews touched Mount Sinai, which was enveloped by thunder and lightning while God spoke with Moses, they would die. They trembled and stayed back. In contrast, when we approach Mount Zion and the new Jerusalem, the Church…we live (Kreeft 551).
God, in the greatest act of humility that can ever be, came down in Christ Jesus that we could touch Him…as we do at Holy Communion. Humility enables us to learn from the Jews at Mount Sinai and remember Jesus is God when we approach Him. This keeps us from losing our sense of humble awe in Jesus’ presence in Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and His presence in others, especially the baptized.
You might say that the messages in Sirach and Hebrews set the table for today’s gospel. Jesus is dining at the home of a “leading Pharisee.” To put it in perspective, imagine you are at a gala dinner hosted by a famous or powerful person. It’s not hard to imagine people trying to impress the host, jockeying for a prominent place to sit. At the Pharisee’s dinner, Jesus tells a parable that seems to be teaching these social climbers how to fake humility that they may “enjoy the esteem of their companions.” We know Jesus would not do that. So what was He doing?
What Jesus did is a powerful lesson in humility for us, especially how it helps us draw others closer to God. Peter Kreeft says that Jesus was meeting the Pharisee where he was spiritually (Kreeft 552). St. Paul in Romans 15 describes how to do this. “We who are strong in faith should be patient with the scruples of those whose faith is weak…Each should please his neighbor so as to do him good by building up his spirit (Rom 15: 1-2).” St. Monica, whose life is celebrated today, helped save her son, St Augustine, whose feast day is tomorrow, by being patient with his “weak faith and scruples” (an understatement), and praying for him until he discovered friendship with Jesus.
In doing so, St. Monica, like any devoted mom, emulated Jesus who “came not to condemn us, but that we might have everlasting life (Jn 3:16-17).” He came down to the Pharisee’s level to show him the path to a higher level, that he might be saved. We know this, because Jesus then shared that path with the Pharisee, saying, “…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.” The path to heaven that Jesus was showing the Pharisee was the path of humility lived out in service and love.
The Catechism says, “the baptized person should train himself to live in humility (CCC 2540).” Why? Because the deadliest sin is pride, and humility cures us of it. Along those lines, St. Augustine wrote, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” How do we train ourselves in the virtue of humility?
In Romans 12, St. Paul describes a way that aligns well with Jesus’ message in today’s gospel. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep….do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly (Rom 12:15-16)”. By doing these things, we not only combat pride but also its close cousin, the deadly sin of envy. I encourage you to read and reflect upon all of Romans 12 this week; it is filled with guidance on living life with genuine humility. Then pick one go-do from it and use it to train on living in humility.
Here are three more ways, from the Catechism, to train in humility so that our ego will fit through the narrow gate: pray, confess, and adore. Humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” are we ready to freely accept the gift of prayer (CCC 2559). And when we confess our sins in prayer and in the Sacrament of Confession, we show “trusting humility.” The humility of confession is a “prerequisite for the Eucharistic liturgy (CCC 2631)”. In Adoration we acknowledge that we are a creature while adoring our Creator. In Adoration, humility is blended with love (CCC 2628).
By the way, Jesus waits for you in Confession each Wednesday evening at HNM starting at 5:30 and each Thursday after the 11 AM Mass at Resurrection. For you teens and twenty-somethings who like all-nighters with a friend, sign up for an hour with your best friend, Jesus, late at night next time all-night Adoration comes around. By doing so, you not only benefit yourself, but you help ensure others can benefit from Adoration by filling those difficult-to-fill slots so that it is not canceled.
Here are some closing thoughts. Humility is a gift that frees us from ego and pride. We must be free if we are to love God and others, for love only exist as an act of our free will. St. Mother Teresa said it this way, “It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted, and ardent.” Jesus was infinitely humble, real, devoted, and ardent on the Cross. He had a humble dad who did without question whatever God asked of him. He had a Mother who humbled herself and, just as Jesus said in the gospel, He exalted her. Thus, she wears a crown of humility as the “handmaid of the Lord” and a crown of queenship as the Mother of Christ the King (Lk 1:38; Rev 12:1).”
Mother Mary, our Queen, ask your Son to help us train ourselves in humility this week that we may ardently love Him and others and enter His Kingdom through the narrow gate. Amen.