Humility: Accepting and Embracing Who You Are

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C) – August 28, 2022

St. Paul – Lyons, 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

I Tell You Too Much About My Life

It is very easy to hear these readings and start checking out, “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 14:11). And so we think, “Yeah, I…I probably need to be more humble, not be so prideful.” And we kinda leave it at that. At best! For some of us, we think, “Be humble? Ok. But now what? What does this really have to do with my life? I’m not some arrogant, prideful son-of-a-gun. So now what?” Or, we immediately thing, “Humble? Great. One more thing I need to work on, apparently. One more thing I need to do to make this God guy happy with me.”

But maybe humility, being humble, is more than a random teaching. Maybe. Maybe Jesus is setting the stage for a little more. Maybe Jesus isn’t just writing a self-help book.

I tell y’all way too much about me…but here I go again. As you are perfectly aware by now, I went to Benedictine College my freshman year. I went to Benedictine because I knew God was calling me to be a priest, and I wasn’t a big fan of that at the time; I had my plans, my hopes and dreams, all the “cool” things I wanted to do with my life. I was crushing it! I had gotten good scholarships, got a scholarship for playing the cello, for academics—I was doing great! And then I decided: I need to play rugby. Now, timeout: a few things about 18 year old Michael Brungardt. 18 year old Michael is not the specimen of physical prowess you see before you today; 18 year old Michael is 5’ 11”, 165 pounds soaking wet. 18 year old Michael also has a grand total of zero days, 12 minutes and 15 seconds of experience playing Rugby. What 18 year old Michael is is prone to the dumb ideas of his friend, who is 6’5” and 245 pounds of solid muscle. So there I am, playing rugby. One day at practice, the coach says, “All right. You all are rubbish at tackling! So we’re going to do some tackling drills.” And what happened in these tacking drills is that two cones would be set up about ten yards apart, and two guys would line up at each cone, with all the rest of the team forming a sort of pathway about 10 feet wide—this little pathway. And one person would be given the ball, and their objective was to reach the other cone without being tackled. The person without the ball had to bring them down before they could reach the cone. Ok. As it would happen, in the course of this drill, the coach pointed to me, and pointed to my friend, so we lined up. And then he threw the ball to my friend, blew the whistle, and we were off. Now, in case you missed the first part of this story, I’m 165 pounds soaking wet, and my friend is 6’5” and 245 pounds of solid muscle. In hindsight, I think walking away from that with only a separated shoulder was a win. I really do.

But when your shoulder is separated, I found out that it is also difficult to play the cello. All of a sudden, I had not only been ruled out of rugby for the rest of the season, but I had been ruled out of playing the cello for over a month. The one thing I was actually good at, that I actually had a gift for was taken away from me. And if freaked me out, like more than I thought it would. I had lost this thing that had been such an integral part of my life for years. All because I had “exalted myself” to “rugby player status,” on zero grounds! I was humbled—and not only that, but I had lost more than I bargained.

The Truth of Who We Are

Humility, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is truth. Humilitas veritas. 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. I was under the impression that I could be a rugby star—that was a lack of humility, that was not the truth of reality. Sometimes we have wishful or magical thinking when it comes to reality; we pretend things are not how they really are. Maybe it’s that we have a naive positivity about reality, or maybe we are very overly pessimistic. Personally, when it comes to ourselves, humility is accepting who you truly are, knowing our place, knowing where we fit. And this is very important! Because as we hear, it’s humility that leads to exaltation, to glory, to new life, and joy, and happiness, and freedom. Being humble is not just good advice! Being humble is not one more rule to follow to try to make God happy, or something, no! Being humble is the pre-condition for receiving everything else!

The Trap: To Define Yourself by Your Attributes

I know this isn’t a popular thing to say anymore, but I grew up and still am a fan of Notre Dame football. And one of their most famous coaches, Lou Holtz, is often quoted as saying, “You were not born a winner, and you were not born a loser. You are what you make yourself be.” And with no disrespect to Lou, but I disagree. You are not what you make yourself to be. This is a big trap of our day and age, and every age really. It’s the trap of believing that we are in charge of our own destiny, we are the authors of the story of our life, we are the makes of our life. “Go out and make something of yourself! You can be whoever you make yourself to be!” Right? Yeah, this is what the prevailing narrative out there is! “You are what you make yourself to be! You do you.”

But I disagree. Because as hard as we work, we cannot give ourselves everything. We can’t. And at the end of it all, really, we can’t give ourselves anything. You can’t guarantee anything for yourself. You can’t guarantee anything for your kids. I mean, my favorite example, during COVID there was a great panic over toilet paper; we couldn’t even wipe our own butts. We were humbled. We discovered how fragile we are, how fragile everything is! The great illusion we had built for ourselves that we were in charge and we were the masters of our destiny ran into a huge reality check, a huge dose of humility. Jesus talks about this when he says things like, “Who of you…can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25). We discovered—listen—a truth about who we are. We were forced to live a reality of who we truly are. We had exalted ourselves above the laws of nature itself! And a little virus reminded us of our incredible frailty. 

Reflecting on this, reflecting on a lot of things that I have preached about in the past months, one of the things that I have recently started praying for, a simple petition I have for the parish is: “I pray, Lord, that everything leaves them dissatisfied. Everything, Lord, that is not You.” That is a prayer for humility—a prayer that we will begin to see the truth of reality, the truth about ourselves, the truth about our situation: there is nothing that can satisfy us, nothing that can bring the newness and fullness and everything into our life except God himself. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” (August 28th is Augustine’s feast day, so I’m allowed one Augustine quote.)

Humility: The Basis of the Spiritual Building

What humility allows—this is why it isn’t just some random teaching from Jesus, this is why it isn’t just one more thing to try to work on to make God happy or something—listen: what humility allows, what it allows to grow, what it allows to take root, is everything else in our entire life, everything else that truly matters in life, everything God is trying to give us.

Humility opens us up to a much larger story. A story not centered on ourself, not on our interests or the interests of the particular tribe or group or club we associate ourselves with (bore me to death). Humility, acknowledging who we are, who were truly are—living humility opens us up to being part of the story, the only story, the story God himself has been writing since the beginning. A story he invites us to take an active role in!

It is beyond exciting that we are invited into that! So much more exciting than the little ego-centered story we try to write for ourselves.

When I got knocked on my…on my butt that day at Rugby practice, I literally got knocked on my butt, but I also got knocked on my butt spiritually. Again, it put me in a real place of humility, because everything that I had been doing for myself, the story that I had been writing, this life and destiny that I had started to build for myself—all of it fell apart. And I was humbled, I experienced a moment of true humility. And it was that event that was the catalyst for me going to seminary. It wasn’t going to Benedictine and being a doctor and playing rugby and cello or anything else I was pursuing that God had planned for my life…planned for my life from the very beginning of time, no. That little dose of humility opened me up to the incredible story God was writing and inviting me to be a part of. And I can’t imagine not being a priest. Literally, there were several experiences just this week where I honestly asked myself, “Why didn’t I take up God on His offer sooner?” Just so much fullness and joy.

This is what the Lord wants for each one of us! Not just for men called to be priests, not just for women called to be nuns. The Lord is inviting each one of us into this incredible story He is writing. Each one of us has a crucial part to play. “Church,” being a Christian, being a Catholic is not just about helping us to feel good, learning to be a good person, getting some good advice, a God-centered “self-help” book. Bore me to death! No! We are called to heroic lives, instruments God can use to change this world! St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, “Christ at work in you is able to do far more than you could ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:14-20). This is incredible!

Humility. It begins with humility, though. We have to first acknowledge the truth, the truth of who we are. And who we are is not what our job is, or our talents, not our sins; it’s not our strengths, not our weaknesses.

We are sons and daughters of God, God the almighty Father. And like his only begotten Son, we are called to share in that story. 

Here in this Mass, in this Eucharist, we are literally drawn in to this story. We literally becomes children in the Father’s only begotten Son. We become little-christs—Christians. We share in his life—the greatest life, the most important life! There was never a more important person in the story than Jesus Christ. And we are invited to share—literally share—in his life and in his mission. His mission of love. His mission of reconciliation. His mission of rescue. We are invited to participate in that, the story of the cross. And it is in that story that true greatness is found. True joy. True fullness. Endless joy and peace forever.

It begins with humility. The truth of who we are. And the truth of who we are is sons and daughter of God. We are beloved. Today, every day, from the beginning, we are called to share in this story.

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