The Twenty-Second Sunday of the Year C
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Psalm 67: 3-4ac, 5-6ab, 9-10
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a
Luke 14:1, 7-14
The Sanctuary of Humility
Pope Benedict XVI in pilgrimage today to the Holy House of Loreto, called it “the sanctuary of humility: the humility of God who became flesh and of Mary who welcomed him to her womb.” “In following Christ,” he said, “and imitating Mary, we must have the courage of humility.”
Humility: Saint Benedict’s Twelve Steps
Humility. There is no getting around it. But what exactly is it? Saint Benedict never defines humility? The twelve steps in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule are not definitions. The twelve steps are the traces of humility, clues allowing one to detect, and to collect, the evidence of humility. You know the twelve steps: (1) fear of God, (2) abnegation of self-will, (3) obedience, (4) patient endurance, (5) disclosure of the heart, (6) contentedness with what is, (7) lucid self-awareness, (8) submission to the common rule, (9) silence, (10) emotional sobriety, (11) restraint in speech and, (12) congruity between one’s inside and one’s outside.
Pride: Saint Bernard’s Twelve Steps
Pride. Saint Bernard, for his part, identifies the twelve steps of pride. If you would diagnose the deadly soul sickness of pride, look for the following twelve symptoms: (1) curiosity, (2) levity of mind, (3) giddiness, (4) boasting, (5) singularity, (6) self-conceit, (7) presumption, (8) self-justification, (9) hypocritical confession, (10) revolt, (11) freedom to sin and, (12) the habit of sinning.
The Dance of the Humble
Saint Benedict uses the image of the ladder. With a little imagination, the twelve steps might also be envisioned as a kind of monastic choreography, as the sacred discipline of the dance, the paschal dance from Cross to tomb, from tomb to glory, from the Amen to the Alleluia. While inflexibility is nearly always an attribute of the proud, the humble sister or brother is supple, flexible. The best dancers are supple, and so too, the best monk.
The Lowest Place
Benedictine humility has about it nothing self-conscious, nothing posed, because the sister or brother living it is too absorbed in dancing the dance to stop in front of mirrors, too caught up in the dynamic of the Crucified to pause for effect. Can one strive for humility? I don’t think so. If one is striving to be humble, one is striving to be something. If I am something, I am not nothing, and if I am not nothing, I have not yet found the way to the “lowest place” (Lk 14:10).
Can one consciously train oneself in humility? Again, I don’t think so, for then I am straining to grasp something, striving to win a coveted prize. Humility achieved is no humility at all; it is a kind of possession, a spiritual trophy that one has to keep polished. If I take the lowest place in order to be seen in the lowest place, I’m no better off than the sister or brother who has taken the first place. If I go to the lowest place, calculating that it will get me invited to the highest place, I’m not being humble, I’m being manipulative and shrewd.
Thou Shalt Not Be Iniquisitive
“Seek not the things that are too high for thee,” says Sirach, “and search not into things above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious. For it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes those things that are hid. In unnecessary matters be not over curious, and in many of his works thou shalt not be inquisitive” (Sir 3:21-24). If you are making your Particular Examen on the virtue of humility, what sort of questions should you be asking yourself? The words of Sirach are immensely helpful.
— Are you forever seeking the things that are too high for you and searching into things beyond your ability? If you are, this is an indication of the desire for self-aggrandizement. It reveals a underlying desire to be other than you are. And why would one do that? In order to control things, and because one wants to escape the hard and narrow way of surrender to Divine Providence.
— Are you curious? Always wanting to see “those things that are hid” and to get more information? All information is not necessary. All information is not useful. Some information is positively harmful. Contemporary culture tells us that information is power. The itch of curiosity reveals an underlying desire to be in charge, a thirst for power, and a need to dominate others. Remember that Saint Bernard identifies curiosity as the first step of pride.
Humility and Prayer
The Second Reading offers another approach to humility. “You have not come to what may be touched” (Heb 12:18). In some way, humility begins where knowing what may be touched, measured, and quantified ends. This is where humility and the prayer of faith come together. Humility is the shadow cast by prayer. Prayer — and, in particular, the incomparable prayer of the liturgy — is the migration of the heart to “the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering . . . and to Jesus, the Mediator of a new covenant” (Heb 12:22-24). The migration of the heart to “the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1) is what, in the end, makes us humble, humble even in spite of ourselves.
The Face of Christ
Perhaps — dare I say it? — nothing gets in the way of humility quite so much as the quest for humility as an end in itself. Is not the surer way to seek the adorable Face of the poor and humble Christ? Is not the surer way to contemplate the Face of Christ in the company of the Virgin of Nazareth by means of the humble prayer of her Rosary?
Is not the safer way to say with Saint Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2)? Jesus Christ, the Crucified, dwells among us hidden beneath the sacramental veils. Adore the Eucharistic Face of Christ and, even in spite of yourself, you will become humble. Adoration is the kind of prayer that places all of us among “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and those who cannot repay” (Lk 14:13-14).
The Humble Glory of God
The Most Holy Eucharist is communion with the poor and crucified Jesus in the lowest place, and communion with the risen and ascended Jesus in the highest place. The Most Holy Eucharist veils God’s humble glory, and reveals God’s glorious humility, given for our eating and drinking. The steps of humility still have to be danced, but always to and from the altar, always around the mystery of the Cross. From the Sacrifice of the Mass is born the prayer of the humble, the prayer of those who can say, with the bride of the Canticle, “I sat in His shadow, and His fruit was sweet to my taste” (Ct 2:3).