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August 25, 2010
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
Aug. 29 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Overview: Humility is perhaps one of the most characteristic, yet least imitated of all Christian virtues. It stands in direct opposition to the deadliest of the seven deadly sins: pride, which C.S. Lewis called “the complete anti-God state of mind.” This week’s first reading about humility was chosen to complement the Gospel. It encourages us to cultivate a spirit of humility, which entails a realistic understanding of one’s limitations and dependence on God. Full of practical teachings on how to live a happy life, the book of Sirach is a distillation of centuries of accumulated Jewish wisdom. Humility has an attractive quality, which is why the truly humble person is “loved more than a giver of gifts.” (Mother Teresa really is more beautiful than Britney Spears). The second reading contrasts Mount Sinai, which represents the law, and Mount Zion (the heavenly Jerusalem) which represents the Gospel. The first instills fear while the second inspires hope. Though not part of the reading, this passage concludes with an exhortation to “be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” and to “offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe” (Heb 12:28-29). Gratitude and reverence are essential attributes of humility. The parable in this week’s Gospel isn’t just a piece of practical advice about how to conduct yourself at a dinner party; it’s about our relationship with God. Pride is essentially rebellion against God. It is the most diabolical sin and the most insidious because the more we have it, the less we can see it in ourselves. The humble person, in contrast, sees himself clearly because he sees himself in relation to God. “God is immeasurably superior to yourself,” Lewis said. “Unless you know God as that, you do not know God at all.”
Key verse: “Conduct your affairs with humility and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts” (Sirach 3:17).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: “In all of his life Jesus presents himself as our model. He is ‘the perfect man,’ who invites us to become his disciples and follow him. In humbling himself, he has given us an example to imitate, through his prayer he draws us to pray, and by his poverty he calls us to accept freely the privation and persecutions that may come our way” (No. 520).
Pope Benedict XVI: “Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man. The Hebrews regarded the knees as a symbol of strength; to bend the knee is, therefore, to bend our strength before the living God, and acknowledgment of the fact that all that we are we receive form him” (“Spirit of the Liturgy”).
Life application: It was pride that caused Satan to rebel against God; pride that made Adam fall; pride that caused Cain to turn against his brother and pride that killed Christ. “It is the complete anti-God state of mind.” The cure for pride is humility, which not only acknowledges one’s unworthiness before God, but also imitates Christ who “did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). If pride is the root cause of human misery, then humility is the way to true happiness.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese.