St. Michael's Parish - Cobourg

Why the last place for me…

Why the last place for me…?                                                          -Homily August 28, 2016

 

The readings point to humility, a beautiful virtue. True humility, however, is not commonly understood. Sometimes we think that humility is not to show our talents, or to disguise them and even lie about them, in order for others to think that we are not proud. The person who does that usually thinks that those talents are his property, his own “beauty,” and therefore thinks that he is better than he looks like. That is why, when someone treats that person harshly, or when someone does not recognize or appreciate what he does, he becomes angry, he feels hurt, and fights for recognition.

 

True humility is not only to humble myself: it comes from a judgment of myself. The truly humble person thinks and recognizes that he, of his own accord, has nothing good, but whatever good he has is a gift from God, or from others as well. The truly humble person recognizes that whatever is bad in himself, it is his, and that is why he cannot take the first place: the truly humble person takes the last place because he recognizes that it is his place, the only one he deserves.

 

Wait a moment: how can I think of myself something like that? We all are aware of some beauty or talent in ourselves. How can I think that I have nothing good, if I do?

 

Put it in this way. Imagine a beggar who in a cold morning is asking for money at the door of a Tim Horton’s. A good person passes by, and without thinking too much, gives the poor person his own jacket, a beautiful leather jacket. He now looks very good with his new jacket: the poor man is very happy. But he would not look very good in front of the people who know him, if he showed off too much, or if he despised other beggars because they don’t have a jacket like he does. He has the right to be happy and to enjoy his jacket: it is a gift to him. But precisely because it is a gift, his attitude should be of gratefulness: every time he looks at his jacket, he remembers that good man, that for that man he was worth it, and he rejoices that someone in the world did not just give him a coin, but what he liked the most.

 

The truly humble person is the one who realizes that there is no reason to be the kind of person we are, there is no reason in ourselves for having this or that talent, for having had the education we had or the opportunities we had in life. We are all beggars, lucky beggars, and everything we have is a gift. The right attitude of someone “gifted” should be towards the giver, not towards himself. Gratefulness is what opens humble people to others. Pride is an attitude that closes people in themselves: it is all about them, and everybody has to appreciate what they have and forgive what they don’t have, whereas other people need to be put down, at the service of the proud. Humble people, instead, are open to God in their gratefulness, and open to their neighbours in service: the joy of the gift turns them to give. The joy of being loved produces love, openness. That is why Jesus first speaks of a person who takes the last place and is raised, and then of a person who in turn gives to others, who are in the last place, the first place. The humble person who recognizes that God has loved him, does the same for other people. Humility is a beautiful virtue, because it is the cause of joy in your relationship with God and the cause of love in your relationship with your neighbour.

 

What I mean to say, in short, is that to be humble is not to say that you don’t have a gift when you do, but to recognize that what you have is a gift, and therefore it does not come from you, it is not “yours” in that sense, but God’s. And because it is not yours in a strong sense, you can lose it any time. Job is the epitome of humility when he says: “God gave it, God took it away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” He knew that all he had was not his. Life itself is a gift…

 

Our sins, instead, do not come from God. That is why you can always consider that others deserve a better place than you: they deserve a better place, not because of their sins, but because of the gifts they have received from the love of God. I deserve the last place, not because of the gifts I have received from God, but because of the times I have offended him. That is why the truly humble person is not upset when he is humiliated. He thinks that he deserves that and more because of his sins. It is almost easy to humble ourselves in front of others; what is difficult is to keep our mouth shut when others humble us. It is what Jesus did.

 

We can ask ourselves today if we are looking too much for first places, in the liturgy, in our family circle, in our groups, etc. If we think too much of ourselves and not of what other people need. If we get too upset when people do not recognize our talents or our work. If we are aware of our sinfulness, or try to hide it from ourselves, or if we excuse ourselves too much. If we recognize that all the good things we have are gifts from God. If we give him thanks often. If we realize that every gift is an act of love of God. If we realize how important we are for him.

 

One teaching we can take home is this: to be more aware of the love of God for us. Let us show to God more often that we recognize all the things he has given us. Let us acknowledge him, let us have a more personal relationship with him, let us love him more for all he did and does and will do for us. To focus in this way on God, and on God alone, is what gives us more joy and energy to love our neighbour. We need to encounter the love of God in our lives, of God alone, in Jesus on the Cross, and that love will kindle in our hearts the greatest possible love of our neighbour. Love received produces love, but when that love is the love of God, it produces a fire able to consume the world. It is that love who made some saints able to change their environment and their time (like St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John Paul II). May the Lord pour this love abundantly on our hearts. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  –Fr. Andrew