22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – September 1, 2019
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; Luke 14:1, 7-14
It is very easy to hear these readings and think, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard this one before!” Because it’s true. This Gospel is very well-known. “Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 7:11). And so we think, “Yeah, I need to be more humble, not be so prideful.” And yes! This is true. But, our idea of what humility is and what pride is are usually a little misguided. Usually when we hear “humility,” we think it is putting yourself down, self-deprecation, willful self-abnegation, denying ourselves certain things, not being “extra.” Usually we think that humility is meekness, being very submissive and quiet, not sharing our opinion, always deferring to others. But that’s not humility!
Humility, according to Aquinas, is truth. Humility is truth. Well that’s not helpful. Humility is truth, living the truth of who we are, living reality for what it is! In other words, humility is seeing things as they are, seeing ourselves as we are, and living the truth of that reality. Sometimes we have wishful or magical thinking when it comes to reality, or we pretend things are not how they really are; maybe we have a naive positivity about reality, or maybe we are very pessimistic. Personally, when it comes to ourselves, humility is accepting who you truly are. And this is very important! Because as we hear, humility leads to exaltation, to glory, to new life, and joy, and happiness, and freedom. Being humble is not just good advice! Being humble is the pre-condition for receiving the love and mercy and life of God. We all need to picture the Lord before us, and picture him asking us, “Will you let me love you as you are?”
Have you ever heard someone tell you that they aren’t sick? They are coughing, and sneezing, and they look terrible, and they’re tired—but they keep saying, “I’m fine. I’m not sick.” And it’s like, “No, you’re sick.” How do you know? Because of the symptoms, right? It’s the same with our spiritual life! Sometimes we don’t want to admit that we’re not healthy, that our spiritual life is not healthy—but we are denying all of the symptoms. For example, some people are very active, very hard working, very responsible, always taking care of everything themselves; these could be the symptoms of the spiritual problem of a lack of trust. Some people people eat too much, which is the symptom of gluttony. Some people always want more and more, enough is never enough; and these are the symptoms of greed. And just like any sickness, if it is serious enough, it starts to threaten our life; our spiritual “sicknesses” can start to threaten our spiritual life.
So when we think and talk about humility, and specifically when we talk about a lack of humility, what we mean is what we usually refer to as the problem of pride. But again, pride isn’t exactly what we think it is. If humility is truth, living the truth of who we are, living reality for what it is—then pride, at its heart, is a distancing from reality. Pride is not true, it is living a lie, not living reality but living in our own world. On one hand, pride is “sitting at the place of honor” even though it’s not our place; pride is self-inflation, thinking we are better than we actually are. But pride can also be “taking the lowest place,” self-degradation, putting yourself down, false humility, thinking, “I’m no good.” But both of these, both of these extremes are not true, they are not reality, they are not the truth! So why do we do that?
In our lives, it’s weird, but in our lives—and maybe this is just true for me—many of us have a difficult time acknowledging the truth about ourselves, we don’t accept the truth of who we truly are. Think about it! You may be thinking, “What are you talking about? Of course I accept myself!” But, think about it! Look at the symptoms and see if you can diagnose it.
Many of us are very concerned with our image, how we look and how others perceive us. We don’t just need a car, we need a nice car, a new car, a nice truck with rims, a custom truck. We don’t need clothes, we need brand name clothes, new clothes, a different outfit for every day. We don’t need a house, we need a nice house, a good looking house, a house that is always clean. We need to wear makeup; we don’t just like it, we need it. We always need a nice, fresh haircut. Why? Because our image is very important! Now, this stuff isn’t bad, but they can be symptoms of a deeper problem. It’s not about providing for your children, it’s about status, looking good, having a good image.
Or, many of us try to elevate our status. Some of us live outside of our means; we lie to ourselves about how much money we make, and go into debt trying to live like someone we are not. Sometimes we will do anything in the world to make sure our children go to soccer practice; we take them to Kansas City and Dallas and Oklahoma City for games—because we think that they will be a superstar one day, even though they probably won’t. People skip mass to take their kids to soccer games; they put their children’s soul and their own soul in danger for a soccer game! We try to elevate our status, but are lying about the truth of our situation.
Or, a strange one is that we reject people when they see us for who we truly are. Some people want to be our friend or love us for who we are, but we are constantly pointing out our flaws, or we don’t like them because they only see us as we are, and not who we want to be. Or maybe we are constantly trying to make ourselves look better in front of certain people, hoping they will like the person we present to them.
All of these symptoms, all of them are a lack of humility! Again, if we think humility is being quiet, and little, and lowly, yeah, this doesn’t make sense. But remember: humility is truth, living the truth of who we are, living reality for what it is. And so a lack of humility, or pride, is this disconnect from reality, trying to live our own version of reality, trying to make our lives whatever we want instead of what they really are. We see ourselves as perfect or garbage, as kinda-sorta sinners or kinda-sorta saints.
The real question—here it is—the real question is: What happens when I bring this really false sense of myself into my relationship with God? What happens when we only present our false self to God? When we come before God—whether it is in prayer, or at mass, in our normal life, or when we die—when we come before God, and place this false self before God and say, “Ok God, just love me, help me, save me,” he can’t. Let me say that again. When all we have is this false sense of self, and we come before God and say, “Love me,” he can’t. Why? Because that false self doesn’t exist, that false self isn’t real, that false self isn’t really you. Think about it! If someone presents themselves to you with a “mask,” whatever that mask is, trying to cover all of their flaws, trying to be someone they aren’t, and they want you to love them…you can’t. When we approach God with our masks, when we approach him pridefully, presenting a false self…he can’t love that.
Ultimately, God wants to love you. And when we finally come before him, just us—when we approach him in humility, as we truly are—good, bad, ugly, beautiful, strengths, weaknesses—when we approach him in the truth of who we are, I can just see it! The excitement on his face, God saying, “Ah, there you are!” We approach him as we truly are and he says, “Ah, there she is, there is my daughter. I love you. Just you.”
When we start to think about it, it comes back to that question: “Will you let me love you as you are?” This is what humility is aimed at. Humility is truth, living the truth of who you are, living reality for what it is and not just distancing and disconnecting yourself from it. When we stop living in this “concrete bunker” of who we want to be (having a good image, an elevated status, pretending to be a person we aren’t)—when we finally open the doors of this bunker to truth, then the new, fresh air—the life, joy, and freedom of God—can finally flow into our selves.
This is what St. Paul means when he says, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). This is what St. Paul means when he says, “Christ at work in you is able to do far more than you could ever ask or imagine” (c.f., Ephesians 3:14-20). Paul experienced here in this life what it meant to be exalted! In humility, in accepting yourself as you truly are, in presenting this self to God—as Paul shows us, this only results in being more yourself, being more alive. God is able to do immeasurably more than you could ever ask or imagine.
But it begins with humility. It begins by honestly allowing God to ask you: “Will you let me love you as you are? Will you stop trying to be someone you are not? Will you stop trying to make your image perfect? Will you stop trying to elevate your status? Will you let me love you? Will you let me love you, just you.”