Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Homily on Humility


Here's my homily for this weekend, preached at Saint Joseph basilica in Webster on the importance of humility in our lives.
”I am the best! Nobody can do it better! God is so lucky I work for him!” These are the words of the proud Pharisee in today’s Gospel: “I am not like the rest of them — I am perfect!”

Such pride often masquerades as virtue. I am so good, Lord….so very humble! In fact I’m better at being humble than anyone else!"

Such pride began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam wanted to “be like God.” Adam, the father of all narcissists, wanted the Kingdom, the Poor and the Glory all for himself.

And are we really very different? Given the choice between power and powerlessness, wealth and poverty, acclaim and anonymity very few of us would choose bowing very low to the ground.

Very few, save Jesus, the Son of the living God through whom all things were made, who out of love for sinful man chose to become a helpless little baby; who out of love for sinful man chose to endure all the pains and limitation of the human condition, a man like us in all things but sin. Jesus, our salvation, who out of love for sinful man opened his arms to a passion and death through which he was despised as the least among men and crucified upon a cross. He became the least to save us from our sin. He died that we might be saved from death.

Saint Paul tells us the meaning of this kenosis, this perfect humility, in his letter to the Phillipians: “Though [Jesus] was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man.”

And as he loved us, so the Lord asks us to love one another: through a humility so total that it lays down its life for one’s friends. The origins of the word “humility” help us to understand its meaning here. It comes from the Latin word humus, which means “ground” or “dirt.” It reminds us of the second creation account (Cf. Gen 2:7) where God uses three Hebrew words: Adamah (meaning dirt), Ruah (meaning breath or spirit) and Adam (the name he gave the first man). God reaches down to the earth and takes a handful of Adamah and breathes his Ruah into it and Adam is born. That’s why each Ash Wednesday we are smudged with ashes and reminded that we are dirt and to dirt we shall return.

It is only the breath of God which brings life into this earthly vessel, and only the Holy Spirit which turns us from houses of clay into Temples of his Glory.


Thus whenever we approach God, we do so like the publican in today’s Gospel, by bowing, genuflecting, submitting to the will of God in respect, humility, reverence and obedience.

Just think of the patron Saint of this great Basilica. The Scriptures say little about him. Why? Because Saint Joseph understood the importance of humility. He loved God. He loved Mary, and when she found to be with child before they were married, he was humiliated, but still he let go of all of that and took her as his wife.

Joseph understood, as Pope Francis has reminded us, that “Humility can only get into the heart via humiliation. There is no humility without humiliation, and if you are not able to put up with some humiliations in your life, you will never be humble.”

Abba Appolo, a desert father of the Church in her first days used to say that "the devil has no knees; he cannot kneel; he cannot adore; he cannot pray; he can only look down his nose in contempt. Being unwilling to bend the knee at the name of Jesus is the essence of evil."

As Sir Winston Churchill used to say that there was only one lesson to learn in this life, and it has two parts: That there is a God. And I am not him.