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Humility, Choosing to Take the Lowest Place
By Deacon Keith Fournier
September 3rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
When you are invited by someone 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. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.' Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself, will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself, will be exalted.
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - In our first reading from the Book of Sirach we hear these words, '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 3:17,18)
The English word humility is derived from a Latin root which means close to the earth. It is a relational word, and calls for action. It means willingly giving up your place, emptying yourself, for another. In the Gospel, Jesus offers a parable to demonstrate what humility acts like. (Lk. 14 1, 7-14)
Jesus 'told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table -
'Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, 'My friend, move up to a higher position.' Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself, will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself, will be exalted.'
True humility is rare in this age of narcissism and self idolatry. When we encounter it in a leader, it moves us deeply. That is partly because we are used to experiencing its opposite in some who hold worldly power. But it is also because authentic humility reveals the God who emptied Himself for you and me. Jesus freely took the lowest place.
St Paul writes concerning Jesus 'Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself' (Philippians 2) He reminded the Christians in Corinth 'you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.' (2 Cor. 8:9)
We are fortunate to live in an age when humility has been demonstrated in the leaders of our Church. Let's consider just a few examples.
That little nun from Calcutta named Blessed Teresa, whom the whole world called Mother, was a beautiful witness of humility. Whether she was speaking truth to the powerful or holding the dying Christ made present in the poor on the streets of India, she lived humility and the whole world stood still in its splendor.
Soon, we will celebrate the canonization of Blessed John Paul II. It seems like only yesterday when we watched that once vibrant, strong Pope became frail, sick and physically weak. Then, like the grain of wheat of which the Lord spoke, he fell to the ground and died.
The giant of a man, who once climbed mountains, symbolically mounted the cross of human suffering and, in his frail frame, exercised the authority of his office from the Chair of Peter, which had become a wheel chair at his final Liturgy.
How fitting it was for the champion of the weak, the disabled, the elderly, those who had no voice, to be joined physically to them in order to show the world the truth of the beauty and dignity of every human life. He emptied himself out for the Lord and His people. He showed us the beauty of suffering endured in love and offered for others.
With decreasing verbal eloquence because of Parkinson's disease, he revealed the humility of the God who came to suffer for us all. His prophetic presence through those final hours invited us all to give ourselves away in love.
His successor Benedict not only showed us humility in his faithful service, but in his voluntarily resigning his papal office on February 28, 2013. He changed history through humility. It was never about Benedict to Benedict, it has always been about the Lord and His Church. He took the lowest place and stepped aside to live as a monk, spending his life in prayer for us all.
Now, in the witness of the Pope who chose the name of the little poor man of Assisi, Francis, the overriding experience we have is humility. There is a saying attributed to St Francis of Assisi. Whether he actually said it or not matters little. It expresses the heart of his charism, "I preach the Gospel at all times and sometimes I use words." So it is with Pope Francis.
St. Francis lived the Christian life and vocation in a manner that invited others to follow the same pattern. I suggest that his namesake, the 265th successor of Peter,is following in his footsteps. Each day seems to bring more examples of humility.
When I read the 25th chapter of Matthews Gospel I am drawn to my knees by the words of Jesus,'I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you gave me clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison, and you visited me.' (Matt. 25: 31-46)
I understand the surprise revealed in the question posed by his stunned disciples, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs.' (Matthew 25.35-36) It was an extraordinary statement!
As I have aged I have begun to see there are many faces of poverty. I am only just beginning to learn how to recognize the face of Jesus in them all. Pope Francis is becoming my teacher.
The same Jesus who promised to be with us always also told us that the poor would be with us always. They are one and the same - in a way that is revealed with the eyes of living faith. That truth explains two seemingly contradictory promises of Jesus.
This truth lies at the heart of humility. Those who love the poor are an instruction manual for the rest of us. They make humility visible and draw us into its transformative embrace.
Pope St Leo the Great once wrote of Jesus: 'He took the nature of a servant without stain of sin, enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity. He emptied himself; though invisible he made himself visible, though Creator and Lord of all things he chose to be one of us mortal men. Yet this was the condescension of compassion, not the loss of omnipotence. So he, who in the nature of God had created man, became in the nature of a servant, man himself.'
God is humble. Are we? We are invited at this Eucharist to empty ourselves and learn to take the lowest place.
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