The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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August 24, 2001 Issue
Bishop Morneau's Column
"Reflection on the Readings"

Bishop Robert Morneau
Bishop Robert Morneau

Humility wins the heart of God

We are greedy and selfish in our quest for places of honor

September 2, 2001, Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Bishop Robert Morneau

Questions for reflection:

1. How do we grow in self-knowledge?

2. Why is humility an unpopular virtue?

3. How has the humility of God been revealed?

I recently read a collection of essays by Timothy Radcliffe, OP, the former superior general of the Dominican Order. The book, Sing a New Song: The Christian Vocation, offers some insights regarding the virtue of humility, a central theme in today's Scriptures.

"The deepest truth of our human nature is not that we are greedy and selfish but that we hunger and thirst for God and in God we will find each other." (28)

We must face facts! We are greedy and selfish in many ways. We do seek places of honor at wedding parties and graduation ceremonies. Pride is alive and well within the human heart. All of us contend with self-serving interests. Such is life; such is the fact of sin!

But at a deeper level, we desire to live in the truth of things (humility) and long to be generous, altruistic people. Our basic orientation is toward God and the welfare of others, an orientation that is deeper than our narcissism. As Fr. Radcliffe points out, there are truths and there are truths, some deeper than others. The deepest truth is that we are made to God's likeness and can realize that image through grace and hard work.

"The theologian must be a beggar who knows how to receive the free gifts of the Lord" (64).

To receive a gift is to be indebted. To receive insights into faith and to be able to articulate that knowledge is not simply the work of scholarship. Theologians and philosophers, psychologists and sociologists, scientists and engineers come into contact with truth because they have been gifted with good minds. To become a person of wisdom and compassion we must realize that God is the main agent of these graces. We are beggars, totally dependent upon God's gracious love. This realization should lead to humility.

"Profound self-knowledge reveals not the solitary self of modernity but the one whose existence is inseparable from the God who grants us life in every moment" (151).

The God revealed by Jesus is a God not associated with an untouchable mountain, a blazing fire, gloomy darkness, or a trumpet blast - so says the letter to the Hebrews. Our God is a God of love and life. Every moment provides evidence that God exists. To know ourselves at the deepest levels, to know our Christian vocation to be agents of God's light, love and life, is to attain great wisdom.

In today's world, the understanding of the human person - as someone autonomous and solitary - leads not to self-knowledge but to ignorance and eventually to despair. We are social creatures as well as individuals. We are destined to return to God from whom we came. Our lives are lives of total dependency upon a gracious and loving Mystery.

Humility is not a popular virtue. It is too brown, lacking in brilliant colors. It tends to sit at the last table, runs from the spotlight, blushes with shame for past transgressions. But humility wins the heart of God and liberates a prideful soul.

A final reflection from Timothy Radcliffe: " ... to tell the truth is the most beautiful act of charity." (272) And the truth is that God loves and forgives us in Jesus and through their Spirit.

(Bp. Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese.)

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