There aren't too many benefits of growing old, except if you live long enough, you begin to put things in perspective. When you're young, you constantly worry about what other people think of you. You worry about whether they think you're good-looking or your peers think you are cool. I can’t imagine what it’s like with social media! If you're lucky, you stop worrying about those things somewhere along the line. You stop caring so much about what other people think of you. And when you get to my age, you realize that most of the people you worried about weren’t thinking about you at all.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is with a whole lot of people who were all caught up in what others thought of them. And he told them a truth about how God sees us. He said:
“Those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great.” Luke 14:11
We all want to be great … right? So, what does it mean to be humble?
Does it mean to put ourselves down?
Does it mean to think less of ourselves?
Does it mean to deny our true worth or to belittle it?
Not at all!
Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself. It doesn't mean having a low opinion of your gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all. When we take ourselves out of the picture, what is left? God and others. That is what Jesus is talking about, putting God and others first in our lives.
Jesus is the most remarkable example of humility. In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul tells us: “… though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” Jesus Christ was humble. He lived his life obeying his Father and serving us, even giving up his life to save us.
To be humble is to imitate Jesus. He once said about himself: “The Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve." Mark 10:45 If you are struggling to understand what Jesus is saying about humility, just think of Him on his knees washing his disciples' feet. Or think about Him on the cross giving up his life for us. True humility is to take the talents that God has given us and use them to lift others up.
I read a story about Pope John Paul II, now "Saint" John Paul II. The story goes that a priest was visiting Rome. And on the steps of one of the churches, he saw a beggar who looked very familiar. To his surprise, he realized it was one of his classmates from the seminary. "Didn't we go to the seminary together?" he asked. "Yes," said the beggar. "But you're a priest, right?" "Not anymore," the beggar replied, "I fell off the deep end."
A short time later, the priest had an audience with Pope John Paul II. He told him the story and asked him to pray for his friend. The Pope assured him that he would. Later that day, the priest received a phone call inviting him to have dinner with the Pope, and the Pope asked him to bring the ex-priest with him. He ran to the church, found his friend, and gave him the good news. But the beggar said, "I'm a mess. I haven't showered in a long time, and my clothes are filthy." But the priest took him back to his hotel room and helped him get all cleaned up.
At the end of a very enjoyable dinner, the Holy Father asked to be alone with the ex-priest. After a long while, the man came out with tears in his eyes. "What happened?" his friend asked. The man replied, "The Pope asked me to hear his confession! I told him, 'Your Holiness, look at me! I'm a beggar, not a priest!' But the Pope looked at me and said, "Who among us is not a beggar? I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins." I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, but the Pope assured me that as the Bishop of Rome, he could reinstate me right then and there."
After he heard the Holy Father's confession, the newly reinstated priest asked the Pope to hear his confession. Then Pope John Paul II gave him an assignment to minister to the beggars on the steps of the church where he had been found. Through the humility of Pope John Paul II, who saw himself as God saw him, this former beggar received a new hope, a new mission, and a new beginning.
The Goal for each of us is to see ourselves as God sees us. The world doesn’t believe that the Virtue of Humility is important or even desirable. But God thinks otherwise. To be truly humble means to see ourselves as God sees us.
We’re about to receive the Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. But before we do, we will all make the following statement:
“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
We say these words first spoken by a Roman Centurion, a very powerful man, a very successful man who came to Jesus to plead for him to save his sick servant. Jesus was a nobody in that culture, just a humble carpenter, but this powerful man came to him in humility. And like that Centurion, in a few minutes, we are called to humble ourselves before Jesus and see his power and presence in the simple bread and wine that Father Sebastian will bless in a moment. We believe as Catholics that in the holy Eucharist, the Lord is truly and substantially present under the appearance of bread and wine. Just as the mighty Centurion recognized God's power in a humble carpenter, we are called to see that same Jesus in the humble elements of bread and wine. So today, let’s each of us say those words before communion with conviction. In true humility, let us open our hearts to the Lord our God, who humbled himself to join us today.