We Learn Humility from Jesus
Homily 26th Sunday Year A: We Learn Humility from Jesus
Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves.”
These are the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, our second reading for today, in which we learn about true humility.
Humility is called the Queen of all the virtues, because it is the chief way to conquer the root of all sin, which is pride – and the sidekick of pride, which is vainglory or vanity.
Because of our fallen human nature, we are inclined or prone to exalt ourselves in the eyes of others, and to imagine ourselves to be more holy, more talented, then we really are.
Humility – the virtue which opposes pride – helps us to be honest and truthful about ourselves:
First of all, to realize that we are mere creatures who are totally dependent upon God for any natural talents and abilities that we may have, or any amount of holiness that we attain – which is due more to God’s grace than to our own efforts (because it is God’s grace that enables us to do good).
In fact, true humility makes us acknowledge that we are dependent upon God for our very existence: If God stopped thinking about us, and the rest of creation, everything would cease to be. This is truly a humbling thought!
The great medieval Saint and Doctor of the Church, Catherine of Siena, has a famous line in this regard which I love to quote: “God is He who IS; I am she who is not.” In other words, she owes her very existence to God’s good will.
Humility is the virtue which keeps us honest about ourselves, who we are, and who God is.
The word humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means earth or ground, which is beneath us.
The humble person regards not himself as great, but rather regards others as more important than himself – as St. Paul says in our second reading.
The humble person looks at the sins of others, and instead of looking down on them and thinking how much more holy he himself is, will say: “There but for the grace of God go I.”
We have a three-year confirmation program at our parishes, and I teach the freshman Scripture. In trying to teach them about humility, I first give a definition, and then I say (trying to keep a straight face): “I am the most humble person I know.”
They look at me very solemnly, moving their heads up and down, thinking, no doubt, yes Father Campbell must be a true model of humility.
Then I have to explain to them that the statement I just made is a prideful one; for no one who is truly humble would brag about it, and certainly he would not think himself as the most humble of persons!
Our supreme model of humility is Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that Jesus, though He was God, “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in the likeness of man.” In other words, the infinite glory of Christ’s divinity was hidden beneath the veil of his humanity.
St. Paul goes on to say that Jesus “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus, the Son of God who became man while remaining God, was sent by
God the Father to suffer and die for our sins. Thus, He was obedient unto death for our salvation.
And here we see another sign of true humility: The humble person is obedient; is willing to submit his will to that of another: e.g., children to their parents, those in religious life to their superior.
The humble person strives always to obey God in all things; to do God’s will rather than his own will. And this is not easy; in fact, it is most difficult, because as fallen creatures our wills are rebellious by nature.
Jesus tells us that we must obey God to get to Heaven: “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father” (Mt. 7:21). Satan, the prince of demons, fell from God’s grace because of pride. In Scripture we read words attributed to him: “I will – not – serve” – in other words, “I will – not – obey”; I will not submit my will even to you, God.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), explains how Satan tempts people to follow him in pride: First, he tempts them to riches, which leads to honor, power and prestige, which in turn leads to pride; and pride opens the door to all other sins.
This is why Jesus warns us about heaping up wealth and riches.
Jesus Himself is our supreme example: He embraced poverty, He shunned worldly riches & honors, and willingly bore the scorn and hatred of others for doing what is right and for preaching the truth; and ultimately He accepted death, to win life for us.
Not only that, but Jesus continues to humble Himself in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood, the Holy Eucharist.
In this great Sacrament, not only does Jesus veil His divinity; even His sacred humanity is hidden before our eyes under the appearance of ordinary bread!
And Jesus does all this in the Eucharist, the great Sacrament of His Love, so that we might be more fully conformed to Him, and be able to love as He loved, and to humble ourselves as He did; to fulfill His beautiful but challenging command: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of Heart.”
There is a beautiful prayer composed more than a century ago by Cardinal Merry del Val, who was secretary of state under Pope St. Pius X and whose cause is underway for canonization: The Litany of Humility. I’ll end by reading from it. You can find it online.
Litany of Humility
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, O Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.