Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees in the gospel passage for today’s liturgy. Before the rebuke He notes that they sit on the “chair of Moses.” In other words, they are in a position of authority in the community. The reference may also point to their knowledge of the mosaic (covenantal) law. Yet there is hypocrisy in their lives. While they know and can instruct others in the way of God’s law; they do not follow it themselves.
Jesus offers a series of examples on how this happens. In the end he says, “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The scribes and Pharisees were inflated by pride and self-interest. Humility is the antidote.
Mother Teresa (now Saint Teresa of Calcutta) is often cited as a good exemplar of humility. She left her home in Europe to serve the poorest of the poor in the streets of Calcutta, India. In that densely populated city, there were many people who died on the streets alone with no one to care for them or to be with them when they died. The people lived in great poverty. She served these people by living a life of charity and service. She, and the sisters who joined her in the Missionaries of Charity, lived in extraordinary simplicity and intentional poverty. She lowered herself to be one with them in their need. Her inspiration was Christ Jesus, who as Saint Paul beautifully writes “humbled himself, obediently accepting death, even death on the cross.” Mother Teresa died to self through a life of love, giving of herself to the poor so they would not be alone.
How do we live lives of humility? One way is putting the needs of others before our own needs. To serve freely with no self-interest or quest for personal gain whether power, glory, influence or the like. The opportunities are always present. Family relationships readily provide these opportunities. Loving spouses, parents, children, grandchildren often find themselves having to make choices in this regard. Certainly, community service, caring for our neighbors, co-workers, friends and classmates all provide additional opportunities. Putting the needs of others before ourselves helps us to cultivate a life of humility.
Another aspect of life that also helps us to “be humble” is something that Saint Paul does in the passage from his first letter to the Thessalonians that serves as the second reading for today’s liturgy. In a sense he is the opposite of the “scribes and Pharisees” whom Jesus mentions. Saint Paul first recalls his ministry among the Thessalonians. He writes: “We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children. With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our very selves as well, so dearly beloved had you become to us. You recall, brothers and sisters, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.”
Now someone might suggest he is being boastful as he writes, which does not bode well for humility. Some suggest that he is using a rhetorical style in telling them how he and his co-laborers ministered.
Underlying the stylistic presentation is the reality of loving service and care for the people.
Added to this is, what comes next, is essential in the cultivation of humility. He gives thanks.
Paul writes, “And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in you who believe.”
Humility acknowledges God’s role in our lives, in the direction of our lives, in the work we do, the decisions we make, the service we offer, the care we give, the counsel we suggest and the love we live.
God, who is love, is the One who empowers our lives in love to love. The one who is humble recognizes His presence, His activity and His gift. Failure to do so will present a stumbling block or obstacle to walking in His way; and will surely open the door to pride. Perhaps this is the point Malachi is making in his prophetic oracle (first reading).
Thanksgiving helps cultivate a life of humility. The fruits of this are loving service, compassion, kindness and mercy.
Another fruit is referenced in the responsorial psalm. That is peace.
Our response is, “In you, Lord, I have found my peace.” In this case, the “peace” referred to is inner peace, peace within ourselves, serenity or contentment.
The image the psalmist uses is that of a “weaned child on its mother’s lap.” He writes, “I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap.” He then mentions another fruit that comes from a humble heart – hope.
Jesus calls us to lives of humble service. Humility places the needs of others before our own. In this sense, it is an act of love.
Acknowledging God’s abiding presence and saving activity in our lives and offering Him thanks cultivates humility, provides peace and hope.
And so Jesus says: “everyone who humbles himself shall be exaulted.”
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.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103