For each of the deadly sins, there is also a life-giving virtue. Today, our readings focus on humility, which is the life-giving virtue that is the antidote to pride. Of the seven deadly sins, pride is usually considered the original and the most serious of the sins. Pride was the sin that caused the angel Lucifer to fall from grace to become the devil. Pride was the sin that caused our first parents to reach for the forbidden fruit that was beyond them, all in an attempt to know everything God does. A good examination of conscience would probably convince all of us that we suffer from pride from time to time, and sometimes even pervasively, in our own lives. It’s what causes us to compare ourselves to others, to try to solve all our problems in ways that don’t include God, to be angry when everything does not go the way we would have it. Pride, as the saying goes, and as Lucifer found out, doth indeed go before the fall, and when that happens in a person’s life, if it doesn’t break them in a way that convinces them of their need for God, will very often send them into a tailspin of despair. Pride is a particularly ugly thing.
Jesus tells us quite clearly today: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” But not many of us really seek to be humbled, do we? When we think about humility, we might associate that with a kind of wimpiness. As you think about humble people do you imagine breast-beating, pious souls who allow themselves to be the doormats for the more aggressive and ambitious? Humble people, we tend to think, don’t buck the system, they just say their prayers and, when they are inflicted with pain and suffering, they just “offer it up.”
But that’s not how Jesus sees it. He doesn’t see humble people as wimpy or weak-minded. He sees them as leaders: “The greatest among you,” he tells us, “must be your servant.” So do you want to be a leader? Do you want people to look up to you? Well, if you do, you need to be a servant of others. I talked in my homily last week about my friend Mike, who was the mechanic who humbly offered his service to those in need. This weekend, we mourn the passing of our brother Marty Rock, a long time parishioner here at Notre Dame, who just this past summer, I clearly remember on his hands and knees repairing one of the pews in the church. And he did that kind of thing all the time in his retirement years. These were not wimpy men. These were the kind of servant leaders that our Lord calls us all to be in today’s readings.
Today, we had our parish day of service. The place was bustling with around 150 servant leaders who took time out of their day to help spruce up the church grounds and reach out to those in need. They packed lunches for the homeless, made cookies for PADS, did yard work for some senior parishioners, washed the pews you’re sitting in right now, painted the rectory porch, collected food for the food pantry, and quite a bit more.
As we are in the middle of our stewardship campaign right now, this is a good time to reflect with humility on the many gifts that we have been given, both individually and as a community. How can we make a return to God for all that he has given us? How can we share the love that he pours out on us daily? The best we can do is to look at our resources and realize, with humility, that they are all gifts from God. And then pray to know how we can best return a portion of our time, talent, and treasure to God that he alone might be glorified in all things.
As I said, this attitude is counter-cultural. We want the places of honor at banquets and wherever we go; that’s just human nature. We may not wear phylacteries or tassels when we come in to worship, but we are pleased when someone notices how wonderful is something that we have done. And Jesus would have nothing of all this.
I don’t really think that Jesus was saying there shouldn’t be people we call “father” or “teacher” or “master.” I think Jesus knew well that the world needs leaders. But the message here is that those leaders must be the servants of all. And so we need to reflect on how willing we have been to be servants. Have we reached out to the poor in some way? Have we given adequately of our time, talent and treasure for the mission of the Church?
We can see how Jesus modeled leadership in his own life. Indeed, he is not asking us to do something he was unwilling to do himself. When he said, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” he was in a way foreshadowing what would happen to him. Humbling himself to take up our cross – our cross – he would be exalted in the glory of the resurrection.
The good news is that glory can be ours too, if we would humble ourselves and lay down our lives for others. If we stop treating the people in our lives as stepping stones to something better, we might reach something better than we can find on our own. If we humble ourselves to feed the poor and needy, to reach out to the marginalized and forgotten, we might be more open to the grace our Lord has in store for us in the kingdom of heaven.
At this Mass, we have been invited to a very important banquet, and we ourselves are completely unworthy of being here. And I include myself in that statement. Yet, through grace, through the love of our God, we have been given an exalted place at the banquet table. Realizing how great the gift is and how unworthy of it we are is a very humbling experience. In that humility, we are called to go out and feed those who need to know how much God loves them.
For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.