October 25, 2019

Christ the Cornerstone

Like Jesus, bring an attitude of humility to all you do

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” (C. S. Lewis)

The Gospel reading for this weekend, the 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, includes the familiar parable of two men at prayer.

One prays with pride saying, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector” (Lk 18:11). The other “would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed: ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner’ ” (Lk 18:13).

Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that the humility of the tax collector is greatly preferred to the arrogance of the Pharisee, a righteous man who says that he fasts twice a week and pays tithes on his whole income. “I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 18:14).

Humility is a challenging concept for most of us. We have been taught by the values of our society to promote ourselves and our talents, to be proud of all the things we have accomplished, and to “be righteous” by being good and being seen to be good. Surely Jesus is not telling us to be “greedy, dishonest or adulterous” like those who are public sinners. Why is humility so much preferred to arrogance?

The answer is to be found in the life and ministry of Jesus himself. As Pope Francis says, “Jesus did not sound the trumpet when he healed someone or preached or performed a miracle like the multiplication of the loaves. No, he was humble. He just did it. And he was close to the people.”

Quoting a popular hymn of his day, St. Paul tells us that humility is the essence of Jesus’ character:

“Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:5-11).

Self-emptying is fundamentally important to Christian life. In order to follow Jesus and to serve his people, we have to get out of our own way. We need to acknowledge our own sinfulness and our inadequacy as ministers of the Gospel in order to allow the Holy Spirit to fill us with the power to witness effectively to the healing power of a loving and merciful God.

As Pope Francis reminds us, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus exalt himself. Jesus’ authority came from his humility and not from proudly proclaiming, “I am the Messiah or I am the prophet.” In fact, the Gospel is filled with examples of Jesus’ attempts to downplay his accomplishments by either attributing them to his Father or by asking (often unsuccessfully) that the recipients of his healing and forgiveness “tell no one.”

Meekness and tenderness, Pope Francis says, are the two characteristics that defined Christ’s authority. He was humble, and he challenges all of us who wish to be his disciples to do the same.

Humility is a challenging concept for us because we have been taught that it is demeaning, that it somehow devalues us as persons. Nothing could be further from the truth. In all humility, we rightly believe that each one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We are blessed by the grace of Christ who liberates us from the bondage of self and empowers us to work wonders in his name.

The virtue of humility does not make us less. It makes us more by acknowledging that God is the source of our goodness, our strength and our ability to care for the needs of others, especially the poor and vulnerable.

Let’s pray for the grace to pray like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And let’s ask God to help us remember that the good we do is not the result of our own efforts, or our own righteousness, but is entirely the result of God’s grace working in our lives. †

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