Sunday September 2, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29)
Reading II (Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a)
Gospel (St. Luke 14:1, 7-14)
"Whoever humbles himself will be exalted, but whoever exalts himself will be humbled." These words of Our Lord are words that we must listen to very carefully because, in our society, we hold pride to be a very important thing. In our society, pride has become a virtue; but in the Scriptures and in the spiritual life, pride is the greatest of all the vices. It is the root of every single sin that we commit. Yet, because of our pride, we oftentimes do not even recognize it.
It is pride that makes us very much self-centered. It is pride that tries to make us think that we are better than others. It is pride that leads us to judge others. It is pride that makes us place ourselves above others. It is pride that makes us compare ourselves with others. All these different things that we do are rooted in pride so we need to strive to get rid of it.
I oftentimes tell the people in confession when they start noticing their pride (and it comes out in so many various ways - we all notice if it comes out as arrogance, for instance, but there are so many different facets to pride): "It is not going to go away quickly. In fact, it is the very last thing that is going to go before you are perfect. So, it will either be there for the rest of your life, or it will be there for a very long time until you have achieved perfection in the spiritual life." We need to be patient with ourselves as we strive to get rid of this problem, but a huge problem it is.
As I said earlier, it is so big of a problem that we do not even notice it. Most of us are so filled with pride that we do not even recognize that we are filled with pride because it has blinded us. And so, many people will say that they do not even know what sins they commit; they do not recognize anything. We get people coming into the confessional and they tell us that it has been a year or two years since they have been to confession and they cannot think of anything that they have done wrong in the course of those couple of years. That is pure pride. Pride has blinded them to the point that they do not even notice where they fail in charity toward other people, where they have failed in their duties toward God and neighbor and their own families. They do not recognize any of the struggles and the difficulties that are inherent in this life because they have convinced themselves that they have everything in control and that they are living a good and holy life with nothing wrong.
The reality of the matter is that the more holy of a life we live, the more we are going to recognize the sinfulness of our lives because the closer we come to God, the more we recognize our own selfishness - and that (selfishness) is just pride. When you look at your life, just ask yourself: "How often do I do things that are selfish? How often do I choose to do my own will? How often do I get upset because I did not get my way? How often do I try to push my own will onto somebody else?" All of that, once again, is pride. We can ask: "How often do my sensitivities get hurt? How often do I walk away angry because I was misunderstood or because my feelings have been hurt by what somebody said or thought? Or because I considered myself to be misjudged by another person? Or because somebody did not include me? Or because I was rejected? Or I was ignored? Or I was looking to be esteemed or held up?" All of these are matters of pride. Yet, so often they go undetected because, once again, our pride has blinded us to the very pride itself. It is something that we need to begin to recognize.
We must pray for humility. We heard about that in the first reading where Sirach says, "Conduct your affairs with humility." He says that this is going to be more pleasing to people than anything else. Think of how people would gather around you if you were freely giving things away. You immediately have lots of friends when you are going to give away your belongings, but then they fall away and you never see them again once your belongings are gone. But Sirach says, "If you conduct your affairs with humility, then you will be more loved than a giver of gifts," because people are drawn to true humility.
We need to be very careful of false humility, which is simply pride anyway - it is just pride in disguise. False humility comes out, for instance, when you do something well and somebody compliments you on it and you try to say, "No, no, no. That is not true. I did not do it well." What you are really doing is fishing for another compliment. What you are really doing is hoping that they will say, "Oh, yes, you really did do it well! You did a great job!" They pat you on the back and they build you up. It is pure pride, but it comes out under the façade of humility. We must be cautious of that. The devil is very shrewd and he does not care which end you fall off of, all he wants is for you to fall. Pride is the easiest of all the vices by which Satan can tempt us so we must be very, very careful in this matter.
We must pray for true humility, but most of us are unwilling to do that. If we are really honest with ourselves, and I ask you to pray for humility, most of us will back away because of the cost. Humility only comes through humiliation and most of us loathe humiliation. We do not want to be humiliated; we do not want to be made to look bad; we do not want to be set aside and thought to be foolish. Consequently, we refuse to pray for humiliation, but we need to pray for humility.
All we need to do is think of Jesus: Here is God Almighty, the Creator of all things, and He humbled Himself to become a man. In fact, Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Philippians: "He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man." We have trouble even humbling ourselves to put ourselves beneath other people. Jesus humbled Himself to become the lowest of all, even to the point where He says, "I have come, not to be served, but to serve; and to give My life as a ransom for the many." He gave everything. He humbled Himself to the point that He truly was the lowliest of all.
When we look at Our Blessed Lady, the most exalted of all human creatures, she says in her Magnificat: "God has looked upon His servant in her lowliness." It was because of her humility that God raised her up. What you even notice is that immediately after receiving the greatest Gift of all of humanity - she received the Gift of God in her own womb, she was now carrying God within herself - she goes immediately to her relative Elizabeth and serves her.
When Elizabeth says, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Mary does not turn around and say, "Yes, aren't I wonderful? Look what God has done. He thinks that I am so wonderful that He has done this for me." No, instead she turns around and she humbles herself. She says, "God has looked upon His servant in her lowliness." And because of her lowliness, her soul magnified the Lord.
We have a choice. We can magnify God or ourselves. Most people in this world choose to magnify themselves. We like to make sure that everybody knows how wonderful we are. We boast about our accomplishments; we like to brag about all the things we have done well. We like to show off. We like to make sure other people see us, that they notice us, that they think well of us, that they try to lift us up and put us on a pedestal. And even though, externally, with our false humility we try to tell them, "No, no, no, do not do that," we rather enjoy it. We like the attention and our pride comes out and we radiate ourselves rather than God. This is the opposite of what Our Lady did and it is the opposite of what Our Lord did. We need to learn from their example and we need to look at the glory God has given to each one of us, not to be prideful, but rather, to be humbled by it.
Listen to what Saint Paul says in that second reading as he compares the two covenants and reminds us that we have not drawn near to what is touchable, to what is tangible. We have not drawn near to Mount Sinai and we have not heard a voice that the people prayed would not speak to them ever again. We have not drawn near to a mountain which God said is evil and that even if a beast touches the mountain it must be stoned to death. We have not drawn near to what is tangible, but rather to what is intangible. We have drawn near to the eternal mountain, to the mountain that Saint Paul calls Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to myriads of angels in festal gathering, to the Judge of all, who is God - to Jesus Christ Himself.
When we think of what it is that we are called to, think of the Day of Judgment and ask yourself what you plan to do on the Day of Judgment. Do you plan to stand before God and tell Him how wonderful you are, like the Pharisee who went into the temple and told God: "Thanks be to God that I am not like this publican over here, this sinner, because I am 'Mr. Wonderful' himself. Lord, You are really lucky that You created me."? Are we going to stand before God and say, "Look at what I did with my life! Isn't it wonderful? Aren't You proud of me, Lord, for all the wonderful and glorious things I did?" I do not think any of us are going to do that. It would be a quick trip in the wrong direction if we tried.
I think we can expect that when we stand before God we are going to humble ourselves. We are going to see our own sinfulness before Him who is absolute perfection and perfect love. We are going to see all our faults and failures very clearly before Him who is without fault. We are going to be able to look at all of our ingratitude in the face of all the gifts that He has given to us. We are going to see clearly our pride before Him who is humility itself. And I do not think we will stand for very long.
At least, my vision of what is going to happen on the Day of Judgment is that I expect to be flat on my face before the glory of Almighty God. That is the point that Saint Paul is making. If the people who drew near to Mount Sinai begged that God's voice would never be heard by them again and they were told that they could not touch the mountain or they would die, think of the humility that they had to have as they stood before the Lord and He gave them the Ten Commandments. How much greater humility must we have when we stand before the temple of God, not made by hands, but eternal in Heaven. When we stand before the Creator of all, when we recognize that in His mercy and His love He has chosen us to be his own sons and daughters, how much humility must we have.
And we must have that always. Not just when we come before Him at Mass; not just when we pray; not just when we think about the Judgment Day; but in every moment of our lives: when we deal with our family and friends and neighbors, when we go to work, when we talk about our children with others and we compare notes with how wonderful they are as compared to how wonderful we are. In everything that we do, the way that we present ourselves, we must always remember that we have come near to God. Therefore, we must humble ourselves knowing that if we humble ourselves God will exalt us forever. On the other hand, if we exalt ourselves we will be eternally humiliated.
The choice is ours. Do we pray for humility in this life and accept the pain and humiliation that will come with it and know that by being humble we will be loved by God and neighbor? Not so that we can be thought of as great ones or wonderful, but rather that it will bring us greater humility because we recognize our own unworthiness. Or, on the other hand, we can boast of our own greatness; we can seek attention for ourselves; we can exalt ourselves and even place ourselves upon the pedestal and we know that when we stand before God on Judgment Day we will be humiliated for eternity - for those who humble themselves will be exalted, but those who exalt themselves will be humbled.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.