After the fourth game of the 2021 NBA finals, Milwaukee Bucks player Giannis Antetokounmpo — who had played an outstanding game for his championship team — was asked how to keep a winning perspective.
He replied: “From my experience, like when I think about, ‘Yeah, I did this. I’m so great. … ‘Oh, we won this and that.’ Usually … the next few days, you’re going to be terrible.”
He then continued: “When you focus on the past, that’s your ego (saying) ‘I did this.’ … And when I focus on the future, it’s my pride. … I try to focus in the moment, in the present. And that’s humility. That’s being humble. That’s not setting expectations. That’s going out there and enjoying the game.”
Humility can be described in many ways. Antetokounmpo describes it as “staying in the present.” Merriam-Webster describes it as “freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble.” Wikipedia describes one of the meanings as “being unselved” or a “liberation from consciousness of self, a form of temperance that is neither having pride (or haughtiness) nor indulging in self-deprecation.”
Two of the readings for today’s liturgy speak about the importance of humility. In the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus uses two illustrations to consider humility.
The context for his teaching is that he is at the home of one of the “leading Pharisees” and the other guests were observing him carefully. As it turns out, he was also observing them.
First, he offers a parable that describes a guest coming to a wedding feast. Jesus tells his audience that when they enter a wedding banquet to take the lowest seat, not the seat of honor, for when someone more distinguished arrives, you will be asked to move to a lower place. Jesus concludes with the teaching: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Second, he addresses his host regarding who to invite to a dinner. Rather than invite the important, prestigious or powerful people who can do something for you, invite the “poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” In return, says Jesus, “blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The first reading, taken from the Book of Sirach, also encourages humility. The passage comes in the form of a parents instruction for their child, one of the forms of wisdom literature: “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” The author continues: “What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.” Humility, in this sense, seems to involve an honest assessment of one’s own ability and gifts and using them wisely.
Humility is a good to be pursued. It has many aspects or nuances. It takes effort and concentration to incorporate it into one’s life. Seeking to do so will give glory to God, help us to be better persons and a benefit for those we encounter in life.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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