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The Weekly Word: The virtue of humility

By Fr. Tom Heathershaw, Pastor, Immaculate Conception Parish, Charles City; St. Michael, Nashua

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place.

The Weekly Word: The virtue of humility
Fr. Tom Heathershaw

Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.

For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment.

“Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

– Luke 14:1,7-14

I think the obvious theme from this Gospel is the virtue of humility. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” Jesus said.

Like many words in today’s culture, I think the meaning of the word humility can sometimes be seen as confusing or unclear. For Catholics, humility is not thinking less of yourself or thinking you do not have any worth.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux says that humility is “knowledge of self, knowing the truth of oneself.”

This is when we know our weaknesses, our fears, our sins, our insecurities, and whatever good qualities we have – we acknowledge that.

But even with those good qualities we possess, we have a profound understanding that those good qualities we have, did not come from me; they came from God, they came from the people God placed in my life, certain situations or circumstances or moments of formation God may have given me. I know myself enough that that is not my own.

IN THE END, HUMILITY IS KNOWING how much we truly are dependent on God. We see ourselves as we really are.

It has been argued that many Christians can talk a lot about humility: I know I need to be humble; I know I am weak; I know I am a sinner; I know I need God. It is easy to talk about humility.

But there is humility at a much more profound level: experiential humility, where one acutely feels their weakness such as there is no pretending; we actually see ourselves as we are. God can do great things with a humble soul.

Think of someone like Mother Teresa. She had great boldness in her faith and radically lived a life of poverty to serve others. But it was all based on a confi dence in not their own ability, but they relied completely on God.

Let us think of the vice that undermines humility: there are two of them, pride and vanity. Pride is the excessive love of one’s own abilities or excellence, while vanity undermines humility because it seeks the praise and glory of others and this world. The person who struggles with vanity seeks attention and recognition. Do we worry about what others think of us? Let us heed the words of Christ to seek humility.

If you have not prayed the Litany of Humility, that is a good place to start:

“DELIVER ME, JESUS, from the desire of being praised. Deliver me from the desire to be preferred. Deliver me from the desire of being approved. Jesus grant me the grace to desire that others may be esteemed more than I. Jesus grant me the grace to desire it that others may be esteemed more than I and that in the opinion of the world others may increase and I may decrease. Grant me the desire that others may be praised and I go unnoticed.”


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