30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 4:00pm and 8:00am at Saint
at Saint Matthew, Baltimore
Merton and Humility
There was an American priest named Thomas Merton.
Merton died in 1968. Many of you may know that he was a contemplative monk – a member of the Trappist monastery in Kentucky.
Merton wrote a number of books on spirituality and the spiritual life. In one place, he writes about humility and he says this – just two sentences!
“Humility is absolutely necessary if one is going to avoid acting like a baby all one’s life. To grow up, in fact, means to become humble, to throw away the illusion that I am the center of everything.”
Jesus and Humility
Jesus also talks about humility in today’s gospel.
He tells a parable about two people in the temple. The contrast between their attitudes and words and body postures is absolutely dramatic.
And then Jesus draws his teaching from this image. “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
So, we need to “humble ourselves,” to embrace humility if we are to become the kind of persons Jesus calls us to be. We need to do this if we are going to “grow up,” as Thomas Merton says, and become mature persons.
Today I don’t want to give a definition of humility but I do want to try to describe it. As I see it, here are some of the things that this Christian virtue means for us.
We Are Humble When…
We are humble
when we listen to others and do not interrupt them while they are speaking, no matter how important we think our idea is,
when we pause to think before we speak and don’t have to be first or the loudest in saying something.
We are humble
when we are like the tax collector in Jesus’ story and can admit our weaknesses and mistakes, things that we did that were wrong or rash,
when we can laugh at ourselves, at our own idiosyncrasies and foibles.
We are humble
when we are not like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story and do not look down at others and see ourselves as better than them, no matter what,
when we look at those who are different from us – in race or religion or culture or nationality or politics or whatever – and see them as persons, as human beings with needs and feelings and hopes like our own.
And we are humble
when we are willing to look at our part in the breakdown of a relationship – and there is almost always an “our” part – and we do whatever we can on our side to work out a reconciliation,
when I as a priest or we as a Church do not judge those who no longer come here and instead look at ourselves and ask how we could do ministry better to bring the Lord more effectively to the twenty-first century.
I am sure there are more things we could say to describe humility.
This is not a popular virtue in our culture. But it is an essential virtue for our lives.
Let’s just remember: “To grow up means to become humble and throw away the illusion that I am the center of everything.” And, “Those who humble themselves will be exalted.”