by Fr. Francis Huwn msfs
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6)
Wis 2:12, 17-20
Ps 54:3-6 and 8
St Augustine once said: “If you ask me which is the first virtue for a Christian, I will tell you that it is humility. If you ask me again which is the second, I will say to you it is humility. If you again ask me which is the third, I will still say that it is humility, and as often as you ask me this question, I shall always give you the same answer.”
It is a human drive to want to be a cut above the rest. This may manifest itself in a variety of ways. A person may want to be in the limelight, the star of a show or the winner of a competition. Another with a lot of money may give a big donation to some charitable institution and want his or her name to be remembered by an engraving in letters of gold. Others may want to become famous by the book they write, by the educational qualifications they acquire or by the positions that they occupy in a church, secular organisation or commercial establishment. Human beings in a modern age which knows little about humility, strive for a false superiority, either directly or indirectly.
The disciples of Jesus are not immune from ambitions. And they, just like our politicians of today, were scrambling for the cabinet posts or the job of Prime Minister. They too are inflicted by human thirst for vain glory. The question that bothers them in their discussion is which of them will have the highest place in the Kingdom. It even gives rise to a quarrel. It is easy to laugh at them, but the laugh is on us. Called to follow Christ, we worry about tiny advantages and securities. Jesus appeals to the disciples’ ambition: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Indeed Jesus often appeals to our low level of thinking to inspire us with the ambition of imitating him, who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mk 10:45).
There is a clear focus in today’s readings on the necessity for humility and service in those who claim to be followers of God. These qualities are important in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus. Such qualities are important in the ordained priests of the Church as well as in all Christians who strive to proclaim the Good News to others.
The appetite for glory and greatness seems to be inbred in us. Who doesn’t cherish the ambition to be “somebody” whom others admire rather than a “nobody”? If pride produces every sin, we can just as well say that humility produces every virtue. With humility you have the means to please God and save your soul; without humility all the other virtues will be of no avail. St. John Vianney affirmed, “It is absolutely necessary for us to be humble if we wish to please God by our actions, and be rewarded in heaven. Jesus Christ himself has told us that we can as little expect to gain heaven without humility, as without Baptism.”
If anyone wants to be first he must make himself last of all and servant of all. This teaching is at the heart of the Gospel. It is Jesus’ recipe for discipleship. Notice also what it does NOT mean. It doesn’t mean a Uriah Heep sort of humility. It doesn’t mean putting yourself down all the time. Humility is not sycophancy i.e. obedient flattery. We often say that we are nothing, that we are misery itself and the refuse of the world. But we would be very sorry if anyone took us at our word and made public that we are such. On the contrary, we make a show of running away and hiding ourselves so that we are pursued and sought after. We pretend to wish to be the last, and seated at the lower end of the table, but it is only to pass to the top with greater advantage.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). If we want to be filled with God’s life and power, then we need to empty ourselves of everything which stands in the way – pride, self-seeking glory, vanity, etc. God wants empty vessels so he can fill them with his own glory, power, and love (2 Corinthians 4:7). Let us never lower our eyes without humbling our hearts. Let us not make a show of wanting to be the last unless we really wish it (St. Francis de Sales). May Jesus helps us to serve with joy, trying to be the first… in service, the first to volunteer, ready to do anything for everyone who may need us. Mary, our Mother, you called yourself “the handmaid of the Lord.” Teach us to serve with humility!