Monday November 4, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Philippians 2:1-4) Gospel (St. Luke 14:12-14)
Saint Paul, in the first reading today from his Letter to the Philippians, tells us that we should never do anything out of selfishness or vainglory. But rather, he tells us that if we are in Christ – that is, if there is any encouragement in being members of Christ, if there is any solace that is ours because of love, if there is any participation that we have in the Holy Spirit, and if there is any compassion in mercy, all of which, clearly, there is because that is what fills us – then “complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, with one thinking.” That is what he wanted for the people who were his followers: to be united in Christ, to be united in truth with one mind, to be united in love with one heart. That is what our goal is supposed to be, not to be divided and split up and bickering and all the other things, but simply to love.
He goes on, then, to say, “Regard others as being more important than yourself.” Now that is something that is totally contrary to our fallen nature. Our sinfulness and our pride make us want to think that we are more important than everyone else. And we like to judge. We make sure that we compare ourselves to everyone and what we are really doing is looking for their weaknesses. Even if they have a position which is far more important than ours or whatever it might be, we find their weaknesses and then we judge ourselves – at least in that area – to be better than the other person. So then we can feel pretty good about ourselves, but in fact all that it does is drive us down further.
The Scriptures tell us that we need to be humble. “Do nothing out of pride or out of vainglory,” Saint Paul says, “rather, be humble and think of others as greater than yourself.” That takes a lot of prayer and it takes a lot of grace. It is not something we are going to be able to do on our own. We have to cooperate, certainly. We can put ourselves into the proper disposition to receive the grace, we can desire the humility; but it is not something that is just simply going to come to us naturally because we have decided that we want to be humble – just the opposite. In fact, most of us, if we even began to be a little bit humble, would be so proud of our humility that it would destroy it anyway.
So we need to make sure that we are praying for humility, and then we need to brace ourselves because humility, as I have said to you many times, comes through humiliation. And none of us likes to be humiliated, therefore, most of us do not want to ask for humility because we do not want to do what would be required to get it. But if we put it in God’s hands and we trust Him and we know that God is love and He will do only what is the very best and He desires only what is the very best, then we have nothing to fear. If God puts us into a situation where we are going to be totally humiliated and dragged through the mud, somehow that must have been what was going to be the best for us. If we would have had any humility at all, we would not have needed that; but because our pride is so incredible, that was the only way we were going to be able to have even the slightest hope of breaking that shell that we built around us. And so God knows what we needed. If all we need is a little bit, that is what He will provide. Most of us, if we need a jackhammer to break through the pride, that is what He is going to provide. It just depends on what is necessary – and He will do whatever is necessary.
And so when we look at that point of considering ourselves as being less than others or others being greater than ourselves, then we see what Our Lord is asking of us in the Gospel. It is, again, that service to others, not looking for anything in return. He says, “If you give a dinner, do not invite the people that you expect repayment from, but invite the people you do not expect repayment from.” In other words, do charity for those from whom you do not expect anything back because that is where real charity is going to be found. Even if it is the people right in your own family or your best friends or whoever it may be, charity is giving without expecting anything in return. It is simply giving. That is what it has to be about.
If, in fact, we are in Christ, we are loving, we are participating in the Spirit, we know the compassion of God’s mercy, then we need to practice it by being humble and by being charitable because that is the way Jesus was. Each one of us, as members of Christ, are to continue His life, to allow Him to live in us and through us, which means that His humility and His charity – which are the two hallmarks of Christ and the two pillars of the spiritual life – must be found in us in a profound manner. That is what the Lord is going to be looking for in us on Judgment Day. He does not want pride and He does not want selfishness. He wants humility and He wants charity; neither of those is going to come to us easily or naturally. We need to pray for it. We need to cooperate with it. And we need to have a true desire for it: to be able to put ourselves beneath others and allow Our Lord to do whatever it is going to take to get us to the point of being conformed to His Son in humility and in charity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.