The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Sir 3:17-18,20,28-29 + Heb 12:18-19,22-24 + Lk 14:1,7-14
September 1, 2019
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.
In the Catechism’s discussion of the Tenth Commandment—forbidding the coveting of thy neighbor’s goods—humility is mentioned. You might wonder what humility has to do with not coveting thy neighbor’s goods. To illustrate the connection, the Catechism quotes the fourth-century saint Gregory of Nyssa.
In St. Gregory’s writing titled “On Blessedness”, he points out how Jesus “speaks of voluntary humility as ‘poverty in spirit’; the Apostle [Paul] gives an example of God’s poverty when he says: ‘For your sakes He became poor’” [CCC 2546].
The key point that St. Gregory makes is that humility is a kind of poverty. This key can help us reflect upon today’s Scriptures.
As you know, Jesus speaks about this “poverty in spirit” in the very first sentence of His Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount takes up 3 out of the 28 chapters of St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel. In the sermon’s very first verse Jesus declares: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” [Mt 5:3]. That first verse of Jesus’ greatest sermon sheds more light on those words of St. Gregory of Nyssa.
The first point to focus on is the importance of the word “voluntary”. Jesus speaks of “voluntary humility” as being poverty of spirit. In this light, we can contrast two kinds of humility: voluntary and involuntary. On the one hand, there’s the kind of humility that we freely choose, and on the other hand there’s the kind of humility that’s forced upon us.
Poverty in spirit is not the kind of humility that’s forced upon us. Poverty in spirit can only be the kind of humility that we freely choose. In fact, this is the goal that Jesus is driving us toward in today’s parable: poverty in spirit, which is voluntary humility.
In today’s Gospel Reading, “Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees”. Note how at this home, everyone is observing everyone else. The evangelist tells us that, on the one hand, “the people there were observing [Jesus] carefully”. But on the other hand, Jesus addresses His parable “to those who had been invited” because Jesus had noticed “how they were choosing the places of honor at the table”. They were choosing, not humility, but self-promotion.
Jesus illustrates the two kinds of humility through His parable. Jesus first describes someone seating himself “in the place of honor”, and then being forced by the host to embarrass himself by moving down to “the lowest place”. This is what’s called “humble pie”: involuntary humility. This is not the humility that Jesus wants us to cultivate. This is not the humility that can be called “poverty of spirit.” This kind of humility originates in pride, and results in a fall.
But then, Jesus describes the kind of humility that originates in God. What does Jesus tell us to do? “[T]ake the lowest place[,] so that when the host comes to you[,] he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’” In other words, practice the virtue of voluntary humility. Don’t get frustrated with how often life serves you “humble pie”. Take the initiative: practice the virtue of voluntary humility, and you’ll find yourself eating much less, and more spiritually healthy in the bargain.
Yet if we understand the need to practice humility voluntarily, we still have a problem: humility is difficult to practice. As in Jesus’ parable, there’s often embarrassment connected to acting humbly. How can we overcome the difficulties connected with acting humbly?
The answer, of course, is Jesus. But not just following His example. Certainly, Jesus gave us three great examples of humility: being conceived at the Annunciation, dying on Calvary, and handing Himself to His disciples in the Eucharist. He becomes human, He offers His humanity on the Cross, and He offers His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. These examples are important for our meditation: for us to imagine these mysteries and ponder their meaning. Yet how could you or I possibly be strong enough to imitate such examples?
The answer is to enter into Jesus’ life through the Self-Gift of His Body and Blood, soul and divinity. Only through the grace of Jesus’ sacramental life can you share in Jesus’ own humility, and make His humility your own.
In today’s First Reading, Sirach counsels you to “[h]umble yourself the more, the greater you are”. Through Baptism, you are a child of God. So indeed you are. That is a profoundly great vocation, yet also a demanding one. To be faithful to that vocation, your humility must be the humility of God’s only-begotten Son. Thanks be to God, He has called His children to the head of the Banquet Table, to be strengthened by Jesus’ own life. Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.
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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (6:25)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday
click HERE to hear the homily of Fr. Mike Schmitz for this Sunday (21:36)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2016 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2010 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read a reflection of St. John Paul II upon the Church’s mission to invite and serve the poor
Adoration of the Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece [ca. 1425-1432]
by Hubert and Jan van Eyck