A man received a promotion to the position of Vice President of the company he worked for. The promotion went to his head, and for weeks on end he bragged to anyone and everyone that he was now VP. His bragging came to an abrupt halt when his wife, so embarrassed by his behavior, said, “Listen Bob, it’s not that big a deal. These days everyone’s a vice president. Why they even have a vice president of peas down at the supermarket!” Somewhat deflated, Bob rang the local supermarket to find out if this was true. “Can I speak to the Vice President of peas please?” he asked, to which the reply came: “of fresh or frozen?” [http://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/humility/]
Humility is considered a fundamental virtue in the spiritual life. But it’s a tricky one. I like what noted theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote about this. He states, “The only problem is that it is hard to define humility as a virtue. One cannot really strive for humility, for then he is trying to be something. One cannot really practice humility, for then he is trying to attain something. No one who has humility can know or establish that fact.” [Light of the World, 343]
Humility can be tricky, too, because while it can be easy to see (hopefully) that we shouldn’t have an over-inflated view of ourselves—with hubris and self-aggrandizement and the like—true humility isn’t about having an over-deflated view of ourselves either. While we know that it’s prideful to consider oneself the greatest person ever, to consider oneself the worst person ever isn’t really humility either; that’s just another form of ego.
Humility is about honesty/recognizing the truth. A part of this truth is that God is God, and we are not. Another part of this truth is that everything we have and are is a gift from God, it’s a grace. And still another part of this truth is what we see, for example, in our passage from Hebrews: that we have this blessed relationship to the living God and we are caught up in this great heavenly reality centered on Jesus Christ, who freely gave His life for each of us. This is where we find our value, and living in this truth moves us into the forgetfulness of self that humility is. We’re not to be caught up in either how awesome we think we are or how awful we think we are. Neither really matters much, and both focus on the self. Humility can be said to be self-forgetfulness.
In the paradox of God’s ways, this humility [forgetfulness of self, focusing on God and His grace] doesn’t keep us in “the lowest place,” but actually opens up a whole new world of possibilities for growth. It leads us to be able to receive gifts as gifts, which can be tough. It leads us to truly be grateful/to have “an attitude of gratitude”/to have a thankful heart. It leads us to be generous in giving ourselves (since nothing comes from us anyway), and without expecting something back. It leads us to be able to truly recognize and encounter others, to pour ourselves out, and to reach out to others—to the materially poor and the spiritually poor—acknowledging that we ourselves are poor and that we must come to God with open hands as a beggar. Humility leads us to practice the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, such bearing wrongs patiently. It leads us to be able to make changes in our own lives. It leads us to truly be open to God and to be able to pray. It leads us to being content and joy-filled.
I’d like to conclude by sharing one of my favorite prayers. It’s called the “Litany of Humility.” It’s a prayer of self-forgetfulness. I try to pray it every day. It was written by Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val (1865-1930), who was Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X. It’s a challenging prayer, but I think that’s part of what makes it so good.
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, Hear me!From the desire of being esteemed,Deliver me, Jesus. From the desire of being loved...From the desire of being extolled...From the desire of being honored...From the desire of being praised...From the desire of being preferred to others...From the desire of being consulted...From the desire of being approved...
From the fear of being humiliated...From the fear of being despised...From the fear of suffering rebukes...From the fear of being calumniated...From the fear of being forgotten...From the fear of being ridiculed...From the fear of being wronged...From the fear of being suspected...
That others may be loved more than I,Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.That others may be esteemed more than I...That, in the opinion of the world,others may increase and I may decrease...That others may be chosen and I set aside...That others may be praised and I unnoticed...That others may be preferred to me in everything...That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
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