22nd Sunday of the Year C
My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are,
and you will find favor with God. (Sirach 3:1f)
When the Titanic was set to sail on it’s maiden voyage, it’s captain is reported to have made an incredible boast to the press. He boasted that his ship was so well built that even God couldn’t sink it. An iceberg was soon to put that boast to rest along with the unfortunate ship and it’s first passengers in the deep waters of the North Atlantic.
The boast, in all likelihood, was just a flip remark made by a man who was extremely proud of his ship, but this proudful boast was also perhaps telling sign of the times, a sign of the deep seated pride of our culture that threatens every man and especially threatens any civilization that is convinced that it no longer needs God, that it has in science and technology, which produces great things like that ship, the answer to all man’s problems in this world. Technological man can replace God Himself.
Pride was the downfall of mankind right from the very beginning when Satan brought down the human race by appealing to human pride: “eat from the tree of knowledge and you will be equal to God.” Satan himself was brought down by his tremendous pride when he refused to serve the creator, and so the demon knew well what to appeal to in human creature, the pride that pushed the creature to want to be equal to it’s creator. It is this radical pride, what the Greek philosophers called hubris, that underlies all human sin, from the sin of Adam to the last sin that man will commit in this world. Sin is a proudful refusal to obey God, a refusal to serve the will of the Creator, and the inner core of every sin is the prideful decision, “non serviam” ” I will not serve.”
If man were to be redeemed, to be saved from his deadly pride and rebellion against God, a rebellion that separates man from Paradise – since God is in fact man’s Paradise, the only possible source of man’s fulfillment and beatitude – then pride would have to be overcome, put to death by it’s opposite, the virtue of humility. This process of redeeming man from his sin and of overcoming the root of all sin, which is human pride, began with the most astounding act of humility imaginable, the humility of the Incarnation. In the Incarnation God actually lowered Himself almost infinitely and became a member of the human race condemned by Adam’s pride to self-destruction. As St. Paul writes: “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.” [Phil 2:7-8]
To understand the teaching of Jesus that humility is the remedy for pride and sin, it is critically important to recognize the astounding nature of His humility. For instance, try to imagine yourself becoming a tiny insect, permanently, in order to rescue insects from destruction. Such a “lowering” of yourself would be little or nothing in comparison to the humility of the Divine Word who lowered himself, or, as Paul says, “emptied Himself” to become a member of our fallen human family in order to rescue us from self-destruction. In truth, there is an infinitely greater distance between ourselves and God than between ourselves and insects. For God to lower himself and become a man was an infinitely greater act of humility, therefore, than if one of us were to become an insect, even were that insect somehow rational.
Thus when Jesus teaches us about humility, it is not some virtue that he understands only theoretically, in the abstract, but something he knows about firsthand in the most astounding way: “Who, being in very nature God … made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Phil. 2:6-7
Jesus’ whole human life was/is one tremendous act of humility springing from the Incarnation itself, the moment when he lowered himself to take the form of man, the form of a slave, for mankind was enslaved by the fall of Adam. His humility is manifested again in his choice to be born of a poor virgin, to embrace the lifestyle of the poor man, to be a humble laborer with his hands, to grow up in an obscure little village, to remain hidden in his home and work until he was over 30 years old. His humility increased when he was rejected by the leaders of his people and abandoned by the people themselves. Finally, as St. Paul says, in the end “he humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. It was this last act of his humility that fully redeemed fallen humanity.
Jesus, then, teaches us what he knows firsthand, not just in his mind, when he was teaching about humility, not just in theory. Thus humility stands as the virtue that man must acquire before he can become a true child of God. It is God’s sanctifying grace and charity that actually transforms the human sinner into a true child of God. But this new divine life of man cannot be maintained and cannot reach its perfection in us without our exercise of the virtue of humility. We must being the journey to God by recognizing our true status as lowly and fallen creatures, recognize that we are not God, nor in any way equal to God, and recognize that if we are to be God’s children, we must first humble ourselves, and, like Christ our brother and our God,”become obedient unto death.” There is no other way to Paradise than this path of divine humility.
And there is no way to acquire the virtue of humility than through practicing this virtue in one’s daily life. Surely that is the message of Jesus in today’s Gospel. If you want to overcome pride, then practice humility in concrete ways. Do not be afraid, at least occasionally, to take the last place or to take the lowest job. Be willing also to associate with the lowly themselves, to adopt their lifestyle, the lifestyle of the humble, and understand that the richer you are, the more danger you are in, for pride is always lurking in the shadows of our lifestyle.
In short, imitate Jesus the Lord who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at… but emptied himself taking the form of a slave.” We cannot overcome our pride simply by wishing it away, nor even simply be praying for humility, though that too is obviously necessary. What Jesus is saying to all of us is that we must put into practice what he teaches us in very concrete ways in his own way of life. One does not become humble by thinking about it, or even praying for this virtue but by acting in accord with this virtue in our concrete lives. Jesus lived humility, and did not just talk about it.
So, the Gospel teaches us this – if we would be in his company in Heaven, we must put our pride to death, and become, like Him, lowly and humble of heart on earth. We do that by things like consciously taking the lowest seat at the banquet of life in this world, deliberately humbling our pride which always threatens to shipwreck us. If we do so in this life then the Lord of the heavenly banquet will recognize us at the lowest spot, where he was accustomed to see his own Son when he was in this world, and, like Him, we will be content to allow the Father to raise us up to a position closer to our Redeemer and Lord. Let our prayer always be “Jesus, meek and humble of heart make our hearts like unto thine,” and then let us act accordingly.
A great prayer for humility composed by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X, can be found online at: