22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saint Mary Parish, Pylesville 8:00am
Saint Matthew Parish, Baltimore 11:00am
The Fine Art of Small Talk
A woman named Debra Fine – spelled F-I-N-E as in, “everything is fine –— she leads seminars that are titled The Fine Art of Small Talk.
These seminars have attracted many people. Often these people cringe at the thought of making small talk at social gatherings.
Debra Fine has an interesting insight. She says that to be a good conversationalist, we need to focus the attention first on others and not on ourselves.
She says that a good conversationalist always lets others know that they have our undivided attention. That begins the process of a relationship.
Then, after others feel that we are interested in what’s going on in their lives, they will usually turn the spotlight back to us. Then we will have a chance to share something about ourselves.
What Humility Is Not
Well, without intending it, that seminar – The Fine Art of Small Talk –contains a significant insight into humility.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled and those who humble themselves shall be exalted.” So, Jesus lifts up the virtue of humility, but the question is: what is humility?
Humility is not trying to come across as less skilled or less knowledgeable than we really are. And it does not mean that we put ourselves down and feel that we are less than others.
What Humility Is
Instead, humility has more to do with our center of attention.
It means that in our relationship with God, we recognize that we are less than the One who has created us and given us life. So, our focus first needs to be on God and not on ourselves self.
And then, humility means that in our human relationships, we recognize that each of us is of equal value. And because the love of God calls us to take the first step in reaching out, again our focus first needs to be on the other person and not on ourselves.
So the insight is that humility is really about the center of attention. It means that our center of attention is first on God and others.
Not Easy to Do
Now, this is not always easy to do.
It is not easy for shy folks to engage with another person;
or for chatterboxes to listen to the other person;
or for those of us who are driven by our own personal goals to do this;
or for those of us who are stressed all day long to do this.
Placing our attention first on God and others takes real effort because so many factors in our human condition and in our culture lead us to do just the opposite. So, let’s look at a few examples that may help us.
Some Helpful Examples
Young children with their toys have a good training ground for humility.
By sharing their toys, they develop the ability to be friends. Our encouragement helps them to focus the center of attention on others and not just on themselves.
A married couple or two adult friends also have opportunities for learning humility.
When we see one another after a hectic day, we might first be tempted to unload and dump. Instead, you might first invite your spouse or friend to share how their day or week has been.
Or even, when we come here to Mass, we have an opportunity for humility.
We can make sure that we are first interested in what God wants to say to us rather than what we want to say to God. And we can make sure that our prayers include the needs of our world and those who are sick and on it goes.
If we do things like these, if we first make God and others the center of our attention, then amazingly, we will also find ourselves well tended. As paradoxical as they seem, the words of Jesus will ring true: “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”