Mar 3, 2015

Seek Humility

Mt. 23: 1-12

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called ‘Master’;
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

A country western song once chimed:  “Lord, it's hard to be humble when you’re perfect in so many ways!” Really?

Have you ever had the experience of being humiliated?  It is very different from acting with humility.  Humiliation implies being taken advantage of, or being shamed into admitting a suddenly uncovered truth about our bad behavior, or going unappreciated for something I’ve done well while another receives the praise.

Humility implies being unpretentious, to seek no praise for a good deed, to do good anonymously, to see service to others as a higher goal, to know one’s own limitations and not to pretend to be something we are not.  In prayer we may say that we know we are sinners in need of constant conversion yet we are loved by a God who seeks to forgive us time and time again.

Humiliation is unpleasant and to humiliate another deliberately is a sin of disrespect.  Humility is an attractive virtue and imitates the very heart of God’s love for us in Christ who humbled himself for our sakes.

In this Tuesday’s Gospel we hear Jesus warning against the danger of pride and position.  He speaks of the scribes and Pharisees who “preach but do not practice.”  These men of authority should be followed in their teaching, Jesus reminds us, because of their position.  But their lives are no good example of right living.  The danger of titles and positions of honor can easily lure one into thinking that we are more important than we are or that we are entitled to certain perks and exceptions to the law above others. While titles of honor and positons of authority are the natural flow of things, we must constantly remind ourselves that we are called ultimately to lives of selfless service to others.  Jesus does not mince words when he says: “The greatest among you must be your servant …whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

In our present day Catholic culture our Holy Father Pope Francis has touched on this theme time and time again; principally to those who have been given positons of leadership in the Church: our Bishops and Priests. Our parishioners are good to us, generous and patient for the most part, yet we can never forget that such advantages are not automatic.  In today’s culture, and for very good reason, respect should be earned and then given to others in return.  The scandal of the priest child sexual abuse remains a humiliating chapter in Church history.  Such behavior is absolutely a grave offense against the innocence of children and a serious failure on the part of leadership in the Church.  We all know how painful it has been. The Church has reached out to the innocent and attempted to create reconciliation with them in some powerful ways.  We must never assume it is over.

Yet, if there is any good side to it, we have been reminded about the value of innocent life.  Those who have victimized the innocent either directly or indirectly carry a responsibility to make amends.  But it has also reminded us of the dangers of allowing the seductive lure of too much authority to “go to our heads” as it were.

We must move forward chastened by this experience and bring out of it a new spirit of healing and selfless service to others.  One thing that has made our Pope Francis so attractive to not only the Catholic world but well beyond is that despite his position and the potential perks that go with the Papacy, he has put them aside in proper perspective.  He acts as a Pastor among his people and indeed seems to live what he preaches. 

There are similar examples in our lives that we can all point to of course.  Humble people who have inspired us in some way.  This Lent is a call not only to be forgiven of our pride and selfishness but also to walk humbly with our God. 

Do something today that is unexpected for another.  Act out of your heart rather than out of your position or desire to be seen.  Take a little time to be more attentive to our real motivations and pray for the grace of true humility in our life.  Have I taken advantage of another?  Have I gone overboard in expressing authority without consideration for the person(s) I am responsible for?

“Lord, I seek the grace of true humility and when I receive it may I not know I have it.”