To introduce us into today’s Gospel theme on “humility”, the book of Ecclesiasticus in our First Reading today, reminds us, “The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly.” When we hear Jesus proclaiming words like, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted,” as in today’s Gospel, I suggest we fasten our seat belts, sit upright and expect turbulence; a turbulence that we need to hear and experience so that our awareness can be reawakened, our complacency is being challenged and most importantly our relationship with our Lord, can be renewed.
Fr Joseph Galdon, one of our Jesuit professors who taught literature and theology for more than thirty years shared, “One morning at breakfast, in our (Jesuit) community, we talked about what is the worst sin of all. (Yes, he admitted, Jesuits do talk about the strangest things at breakfast!) We all agreed that the worst sin of all had to be one of the capital sins – either pride, greed, sex, anger, gluttony, envy or laziness. But, we could not make up our minds on which of those seven was really the worse of all. Then one of the older Jesuits said: ‘They are all bad. But pride never sleeps. That is what makes it the worse sin of all.’ We thought for a moment, and then we all smiled and had to agree that he was right.”
This is because if we reflect on these Capital Sins, it is true that as with “anger,” few of us are angry all the time. And, even the greatest playboy does not go chasing after sex twenty-four hours a day. We may be envious or jealous at times, but we don’t envy everyone. All these Capital Sins are part-time, so to speak, but the sin of pride works overtime and never sleeps.
And worse still, for many of us, we are even unaware that we are proud . . . When this happens, we would use our God given blessings for our own needs, without realising that the blessings that God has given us are to beused to help build His Kingdom, serve His children who have less,and most importantly live the Gospel of Salvation through our daily living.
There is a story of a rich woman Julie and her husband Jack, who both died of an accident, and went to heaven. They were both so happy when she saw St Peter welcoming them warmly at the gates of heaven. Peter said, “Julie and Jack, you are happy to know that we have prepared a place for both of you. Great, thank you retorted Julie; We can’t wait to see it. Along the way, Jack met his golf partner who came out of his huge mansion to greet them. Then, Julie recognised her fruit seller who also waved to her from his big mansion, to her surprise the third person they met was the garbage collector. He also came out of his huge mansion and welcomed them.
Then as they walked along and turned round a corner, to their surprise Julie noticed an unusually small hut at the side of a hill. What is a hut doing in heaven, Julie asked St Peter. “Oh, you mean that shed over there?” St Peter replied. “Yes”, both Julie and Jack retorted immediately. St Peter sheepishly turned to them and said, “I am afraid, that is your house. “What?!” Julie protested. But, why? We have been good Catholics all our lives . . . we attend Mass every Sunday! Why is it that the fruit seller and the garbage collector living in huge mansions while we are only given a hut?! St Peter paused in embarrassment and said, “Well, Julie and Jack, I am afraid, that’s all we could build from the donations and good deeds we received during your life-time together.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the “turbulence” that I mentioned at the beginning of this homily is intended to help us become more Christ-like because “calmness” in our lives does not necessarily mean Peace in our lives. As with Julie and Jack in our story, our lives can be without pain, but such calmness does not necessarily mean that we do not have cancer or any serious illness. We can be living in a “calmness” that indicates not so much as the Peace of God within us, but a superficial life that has been so accustomed to convincing ourselves that we are “good Catholics” when in fact our consciences have been conditioned by our constant excuses and justifications of not challenging ourselves to live the Christ-like life that God Wills of us.
Julie and Jack had used their talents, gifts, wealth, and rank throughout their lives, primarily for those people who praised and glorified them. This is directly opposite of what Jesus in today’s Gospel proclaimed; that we when we throw a party, we are to invite those who cannot repay us, the poor, lame, crippled, blind; and if that is to, God will repay us generously.
Julie and Jack were so busy chasing their secular successes and dreams, that they had little time and energy left to care for others, the poor, the aged and be interested and involved with the Church. They were intelligent, but they did not use the gifts of their intellect to deepen their faith; their prayer lives and spiritual activities were always optional; and even coming for weekend Masses were more out of a sense of obligation and the need to avoid the guilt of not attending, than attending Masses to be enriched and nourished by the Lord Himself. They had thousands of opportunities to draw people closer to God in their business deals and contacts, but they chose to be governed by the principle that says, “What is there for me, instead of What is God’s Will for me.”
And so sadly, they lived a self-absorbed life styles that attributed all their successes to their own ingenuity and intelligence; God was rarely thanked and glorified because they relied more in their own capabilities, than they believed in God. This was their sin of pride, which began in Adam and Eve, our First Parents. And as Jesus in today’s Gospel says, this was their sin of exalting themselves so highly that they had forgotten the Truth that all their blessings of their talents, wealth, health, rank had all come from God.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes such an attitude of life as “an exaggerated love and concern for self”. And ultimately this form of pride locks us into a “falsehood about our identity and our destiny. Both Julie and Jack did not deliberately commit sins that harmed or destroyed others. No, they were good and law abiding citizens; they were good company for those who were concerned about this earthly life and not the afterlife.
My sisters and brothers, Julie and Jack’s main sin was the sin of omission. They have not done much wrong, but they have failed to do the good that ought to have done through the abundant blessings they received. The expensive nursing homes that they put their aged parents in, while good, was never as important as the personal care and love that their parents hoped and longed to receive from them. Likewise, while they were occasionally generous to the needs of the poor and the Church, in proportion to their wealth, what they gave were their loose change, and that was why they ended up with a “hut” in heaven so to speak, while a fruit seller and the garbage collector who served with a genuine heart, received a mansion for their reward!
St Thomas Aquinas says that to have pride in our hearts is to live a lie, while to live humbly is to live in Truth. The Webster dictionary defines “pride” as inordinate self-esteem, and unreasonable conceit of superiority of one’s talents, beauty, wealth, rank. In other words, “pride” arise from a false, inflated and pretentious sense of one’s worth culminating in arrogant conceit. Fr Galdon shares that “If I say that I am a handsome Jesuit, that’s not pride, because it is true. But, if I say that I am the handsomest of all Jesuits, then that is pride because it cannot be true and that would be excessive self-esteem.
The opposite of the sin of pride is the virtue of “humility.” And “humility” is living in “Truth”. True humility is first to recognise the Truth that we are each created in the image and likeness of God. We are each precious and loved by God, Our Father who created us to love Him in return with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that the fundamental Truth and reality of our lives is that first, God brought us into existence in this world. He has also blessed us abundantly with talents, health, wealth, family and most importantly He has given us all the gift of faith. It is this Gospel faith that defines our true identity. We are first and foremost a child of God that is meant to live for all eternity with Him in heaven that Julie and Jack had so conveniently ignored.
Second, it is this gift of faith that also gives us the True purpose and direction in our lives, which is to love God wholeheartedly and show this love and share our blessings with all the people that God has put in our lives, including the sick, aged, poor and needy, and most importantly to reach out to those who do not yet know Jesus and the gift of Salvation through the Gospel of Christ.
Finally, instead of living in the falsehood of pride that pushes God into the background of our lives, as Julie and Jack did during their lives, let us allow the challenges of today’s Gospel to churn our hearts and enlighten our minds to accept that the Truth of all truths is that we are totally dependent on God; especially His Compassionate Love to forgive us of our faults, and sins. And so let us not take God for granted and value His gifts and blessings and live our lives humbly by putting Him at the centre of our lives daily.
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
(cf. Adapted from: The Mustard Seed, Reflections for Daily Living; Joseph A. Galdon, S.J.; The Bookmark Inc. and Maryknoll College Class ’68, Metro Manila; 1991; pp.212-213.
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