The last line of today’s Gospel is well known: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:12). The theme of
The last line of today’s Gospel is well known: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, but whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt 23:12). The theme of humility is worth pondering since it is the virtue needed to counter pride, perhaps the most dangerous capital sin.
Humility puts us in a good relationship with God, others and ourselves. It leads to an acceptance of our gifts and weaknesses, softens the heart that tends to become calloused and empowers us to make a contract with reality in both its afflictions and blessings. Jesus takes on the scribes and Pharisees for their want of humility, for their attempt to exalt themselves in their teaching, dress and seeking places of honor. Jesus did not want them to go down those dead-end roads.
Jesus came to set us free. So often we are imprisoned by our “ideal” or “social” self. We become slaves to the “ought” and too concerned about the opinion of others. What a waste of energy! The grace of humility that Jesus offers gives us the ability to say “yes” to the mystery and reality of what we are, warts and all. No longer is pretense needed; no longer does pride rule our lives.
The late Dag Hammarskjold, former secretary-general of the United Nations, commented: “Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger or smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.”
It is in the person of Jesus that we find that “absolute self-effacement” that epitomizes the virtue of humility. Jesus emptied himself of his divinity and took on our human conditions. He knows from the inside our struggles and fears, our joys and our sorrows. We have an image of God in Jesus quite different from the one articulated by the prophet Malachi who speaks of God in kingly and fearful terms. Jesus reveals to us a humble, gentle and compassionate deity. It is this God, and no others, in whose image we are made.
Questions for reflection
1. What is your understanding of humility?
2. Why is saying “yes” to who we are so terribly important?
3. Is “self-effacement” a noble quality?
Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.