I know a man named Bill, he is retired and lives in San Diego. Several times a week he does something quite out of the ordinary: he drives his car across the border to Tijuana, Mexico to serve the poor. Bill helps the needy in Tijuana in different ways, he visits a prison and cuts the hair of inmates, he gives soup to people living on the street and he goes to poor villages to deliver toys to children. Bill does all these things in a simple and matter-of-fact sort of way. He never draws attention to himself. What is amazing is that he does all this work in Mexico knowing basically no Spanish. Bill is also a bit of a character; you could say he is a little rough around the edges. Sometimes his language can be a little “colorful”. In fact, if he knew I was speaking about him today, he would probably have some choose words for me, words I couldn't repeat here. Bill is definitely a unique individual and among all that he is, what stands out the most is that he is perhaps the most humble man I have ever met.
In today’s gospel, Jesus speaks strongly about the importance of humility. The virtue of humility seems to be one that is very close to the heart of Christ. It is one facet of His life we need to imitate, in fact he commands us: “learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). You can easily picture the scene of today’s gospel. Jesus is at a banquet, perhaps He is in the back of the room, out of the way, but He is watching very attentively the behavior of the guests. Jesus can see them trying to “one-up” each other, seeking to get the seats of honor at the table, looking for attention and in general strutting around like peacocks. Because of what He witnesses Jesus tells us a parable with a strong message: be humble, do not be puffed up or prideful, or seeking to be seen great in the eyes of other. We are blessed to have a living witness to this message in our current Holy Father. Through his actions Pope Francis is echoing this teaching of Christ. A couple examples come to mind. You might have heard that after he was elected as Pope he declined to take the waiting limousine that was to take him to dinner with the cardinals. Instead, he chose to ride to the dinner with the cardinals in a mini-bus, he wanted to be “one of the guys”. The next day, Pope Francis was in a car on the way back from visiting a Church. He had the car stop at the hotel he had been staying at prior to his election, got out, went to the main desk and paid his bill. This is something he easily could have had an aide do. His example shows us the utmost importance of humility in our lives as Christians.
In different ways, we all struggle with being humble. I doubt that humility is an easy thing for any of us. Now, we have probably met some people whose lack of humility is all too evident. They walk around talking about themselves all the time and drawing attention to themselves. I doubt that any of us are like this. We lack humility in more subtle ways. During a retreat while at seminary, the retreat director spoke to us about humility. He read out a list, written by St. Josemaria Escriva, which gave signs that you might be lacking in humility. Listening to the list was a sobering experience for me as I found myself ticking off each point. I would like to share a few of the points with you. Here are some signs that indicate you may be lacking in humility:
- Thinking that what you do or say is better than what other do or say
- Always wanting to get your own way
- Arguing when you are not right or – when you are – insisting stubbornly with bad manner
- Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so
- Speaking badly about yourself so that others may form a good opinion about you, or contradict you
- Being hurt when others are held in greater esteem than you
- Being ashamed of not having certain possession
I could go on, but I think we get the point. In subtle ways, we all struggle with humility.
Perhaps one of the reasons that we struggle being humble is because we do not really understand what humility is. Oftentimes we have a mistaken notion of what humility entails. First, let’s look at what humility is not. Humility is not walking around with your head bowed down thinking to yourself how worthless you are. A great definition of humility is “walking in the truth”. Humble people are able to honestly know and assess themselves, both their gifts and their limitations. They know their gifts and realize that they have been given to them by God. Knowing ourselves to be unique and gifted individuals is indispensable first step to grow in humility. As the expression goes, “God does not make junk”. Further, humble people know that these gifts are meant to be used to serve other people. In addition to knowing our strengths, to be humble we must also be aware of our weaknesses. We need to understand that we are limited human beings in need of God’s help. It important that we keep in mind what humility truly is.
Striving to live humility is a road to happiness. When you meet someone who is truly humble you will find that they are truly happy and full of joy. Bill, who I spoke about earlier, definitely fits this description. He really knew himself. He knew his strengths and gifts: he had time, good health, knew how to cut hair and liked people. He also knew his weaknesses, among them a bit of a tempter and no Spanish skills. Bill made the choice to use his gifts to serve people who were in need. In doing this he did not let his limitations get in the way. Bill loved to say: “what I lack in verb conjugation I try to make up for in love”. As a result, he was truly a happy man. Bill’s life was not without struggle but he was filled with joy. When we strive to live true humility we will find happiness.
In life, some people will be recognized by the world for their accomplishments. However, for the vast majority of people, like my friend Bill, their work and efforts will be seen by few, perhaps by God alone. But, as the gospel shows us, being recognized is not important, humility is. Jesus wants us all to experience the joy and peace of heart that comes through humility. This is His invitation today. Let us begin to grow in humility. Ask yourself today: what gifts do you have? Try to think of at least three and give thanks to God for them. In addition pray that God will show you some new way that you can put these gifts at the service of others so that you can experience the happiness of being humble.