Christian Humility: Attitude and Virtue

The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on September 2, the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, at Corpus Christi Mission in South Riding.

Once again, we find ourselves in the midst of another Labor Day weekend. This weekend signals the end of the summer season; vacations have ended, schools are reopening and, for most of us, a more routine and ordinary style of living is being resumed. In a sense, then, the Labor Day weekend is ushering in a different period of the year. What shall be our attitude in the weeks and months that lie ahead?

An attentive listening to God's Word just proclaimed in our hearing, especially in the first and third readings, gives us in one word the attitude we need to possess: humility. In today's first reading from the Book of Sirach, we were instructed: "My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God." Then, in today's Gospel account, Jesus Himself tells us, "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted." Yes, these two readings can easily be summarized by just one word: humility.

Before going on to reflect on the importance of humility in our lives as Christ's disciples, we need to correct a widespread and popular misunderstanding about humility, especially in today's culture. Too quickly people conclude that humility implies being mealy-mouthed or getting stepped on or denying our talents and abilities. So, humility erroneously ends up being linked with being a wimp. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Humility, coming from the Latin word for "earth," implies being down to earth, basic, no pretenses, no frills. Humility really means being honest and truthful, seeing God as He is, seeing others as they are and seeing ourselves as we are.


Humility, understood in this way, is not only an attitude which we should possess in the next few months; it is also a fundamental virtue which we must practice in order to live a genuinely Christian life every day. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes humility in this way: "The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer (No. 2559). Pope Benedict XVI tells us: "Humility recognizes God as he is. Humility and trust are what make a person truly human" (Magnifacat, September 2007, pg. 41). So then, let us explore together how humility can influence our understanding of ourselves, other people and God.

We must be humble, that is, honest and truthful, about ourselves. This means acknowledging who each one of us really is, with our strengths and abilities, and with our weaknesses and limitations. Do we know our strengths and abilities? Can we identify them and give thanks for them to their source, to the Lord? Are we willing to put these gifts, our strengths and abilities, at the service of others, beginning within the family? Can we likewise identify our weaknesses and limitations? Are we willing, with the help of God's grace, to overcome our weaknesses and to accept our limitations? Can we make our own the words of the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage the change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference?"

We must be humble, that is, honest and truthful, about other people. When we are truly humble about ourselves, we no longer make ourselves the center of attention. We become free enough to see others as they are, with their strengths and abilities, with their weaknesses and limitations. We can then acknowledge that we are all very similar, prone to that selfishness that leads us to sin yet struggling, with God's grace, to rise above our sinfulness, to be generous, compassionate, kind and forgiving. We can honestly admit that others are not perfect because we ourselves are not perfect. We learn to be mutually supportive and understanding; we become willing to carry one another in prayer and with patience. We can truly say: "He ain't heavy, Father, he's my brother" (cf. painting at Boys Town).

We must be humble, that is, honest and truthful, about God and our relationship to Him. When we are truly humble about ourselves, we can honestly admit our radical dependence on the Lord, our absolute need for His transforming grace in our lives. Today's second reading reminds us that "Jesus (is) the mediator of a new covenant." Yes, Jesus Christ has redeemed us by His death and resurrection, that saving mystery we relive in the celebration of every Eucharistic Sacrifice, that saving mystery being renewed now in our midst. This Jesus, our Savior, is pleading for us before the Father, pouring down upon us His merciful love. Humility enables us to be receptive to His saving love and to cooperate with the graces He sends us, so that more and more, we can live here as faith-filled disciples and then live forever with Him in the glory of heaven.

In our time, can we point to someone who is a clear example of humility? I point to Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. As you know, a new book outlining the depth and intensity of her holiness is being published on Wednesday of this week. Entitled, Come, Be My Light, this book describes the long and painful "dark night of the soul" Mother Teresa experienced almost from the moment that she founded the Missionaries of Charity. With genuine humility, she accepted all the interior and exterior sufferings God allowed her to have. Even in the darkest times, when God seemed completely absent, she trusted and surrendered herself to Him. She offered this bitter soul-searing experience to Him as a gift. "What a wonderful gift from God to be able to offer Him the emptiness I feel. I am so happy to give Him this gift." May we learn from Mother Teresa how to surrender ourselves to God in whatever situation we experience, to be truly humble.

Humility is the attitude we should possess in the future and the virtue we must practice every day. Today, when Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion, and often, even daily, let us ask Him: "Jesus meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like Thine!

Bishop Paul S. Loverde


Bp. Paul S. Loverde is the bishop of the Diocese of Arlington in Virginia.

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