Christ says in the parable, "When someone invites you to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, 'Give your place to this man,' and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.”
Certain experiences never leave you, no matter how you try, so I’m going to share an embarrassing story of what happened at the last ordination of deacons in Baltimore, Maryland. I was one of the vesting clergy to help the new deacons wear their vestment after their ordination. Before the Mass, we were assigned to dress in the sacristy where the bishops were vesting. The MCs laid out the vestments on the table, priests’ vestments on one end and bishops’ on the other. But we’re all together, meeting and greeting. Mistakenly I put on the vestment belonging to one of the auxiliary bishops. As each person began to vest, this bishop was walking around, guess he was short of vestment. So, one of the MCs came to me, pulled me aside, and informed me quietly that I had the bishop’s vestment on. It was not intentional but it was embarrassing as I pulled off the vestment and handed it over to the bishop. Everyone laughed about it while some made jokes that maybe it was the Spirit prompting Vin to do that. Christ communicates to us in today’s gospel, “go and take the lowest place so that you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.”
How many of us would say they are (not) humble if the question is thrown out? Yet, we seek things beyond our reach. The wise Ben Sirach challenges us on how to conduct our affairs in humble and edifying ways. Sirach orchestrates the benefits of humility and contrasts the humble person with a giver of gifts. A giver of gifts is loved and admired because such a person changes lives with his contributions. Yet, Sirach insists that the humble person is loved more because the humble heart endears itself to all.
Christ reminds us to not choose places of honor for ourselves, but rather let humility advocate for us. The humble person is sought out and given a place of honor. Such a person does not count status and does not fight for position. Throughout the scripture, we read about the benefits of humility and the negative consequences of pride. From the beginning, pride was Lucifer’s nemesis. When the serpent said to Adam and Eve, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil," their desire to eat the forbidden fruit led to the problem of original sin. Pride can be said to be the mother of all vices, the reason why scripture says, “God opposes the proud but accords his favor to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5). Christ conquered death through humble submission to the will of the Father. The Blessed Mother Mary powerfully proclaimed that the Lord would “cast down the mighty from their thrones, and exalt the humble.” Mary was God’s lowly handmaid, sought out and glorified among women because of her humility. Christ says to the Pharisees gathered in today’s gospel, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
A great way to challenge your pride is to identify with the poor. In practical terms, no one would set a feast and invite all poor, crippled, lame, blind persons. Imagine doing a wedding plan and including the homeless as guests. That would make the headlines in the media. But Christ says, “Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” Christ is asking us to be intentional about supporting the poor. Christ is asking us to shun status syndrome and self-exaltation.
My challenge for you this week and perhaps going forward would be to study the life of a saint and read about how that saint excelled in humility. What aspects of his life would you say challenge you in being humble? What aspects of the saint’s life remind you of yourself in terms of the struggle to overcome your pride? What did that saint do that could inspire you differently? I can give you some examples: St. Francis, St. Kateri, St. John Vianney, St. Padre Pio, St. Maximilian Kolbe, etc. St. Gregory the Great and St. Augustine considered humility the pivotal virtue upon which all other virtues depend, and for that reason, described it as the mother of all virtues. And if you think about the cardinal virtues -fortitude, temperance, justice, and prudence- for example, none of them can be practiced without humility.
Father Eugene Hemrick who writes for the Catholic News Service quotes Father Romano Guardini in the book Sacred Signs as saying, “When a man feels proud, he stands erect, draws himself to his full height, throws back his head and shoulders and says with every part of his body, I am bigger and more important than you. But when he is humble, he feels his littleness, and lowers his head and shrinks into himself.” Father Hemrick shared that each time they visited their relatives, his mother would admonish them this way, “Know your place!” adding, “Don’t be a showoff, practice humility!”
That sounds like what Christ is saying in today’s gospel, similar to what happened to me at that ordination. Humility makes you to know your place and not show off. Humility is not weakness, rather it is the courage to practice self-restraint. Humility lets go of one’s ego. Humility says, “I am smaller and less important than you.” It says no to the demands of the self and the desires of human nature. Humility wins the individual over by its simplicity and beauty. St. Thomas More once said that the one sin worse than lust is pride, because the former is obvious and animalistic, while the other is subtle and all too human. With humility, you will know God’s place in your life and in your success. Hence, Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Remember to always say this prayer: Jesus, meek and humble of heart. Make my heart like unto yours.
Readings: 1st- Sir. 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; 2nd- Heb. 12:18-19, 22-24; Gospel- Lk. 14:1, 7-14