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The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 28, 2022

Watch this homily!


    Pope Francis came to mind as I reflected on today’s scriptures. The teaching from the Book of Sirach, “The greater you are, humble yourself the more” could have been written about him, and so could the gospel parable about avoiding places of honor. Humility is the thread that runs through those readings, and in many ways it’s the thread that runs through Pope Francis’s ministry.   Think of his simple, down-to-earth ways, his no-frills lifestyle without the papal palace, the ostentatious outfits, the royal throne, the chauffeured limousine. Think of his approachability, his every day language, his common touch; think of his remarkable ability to admit mistakes when he makes them, and to ask forgiveness; think of his willingness to listen to people the Church has badly wounded over the years as he did on his recent trip to Canada. Any way you look at it, Pope Francis has redefined the papacy in terms of humble, selfless service. No wonder Elton John, probably not much of a Pope watcher, called Pope Francis “a miracle of humility in an era of vanity.”

     Now I’m sure you know that the humility I’m talking about is not the pious posturing which sometimes passes for humility. Charles Dickens’ insufferable character, Uriah Heep, comes to mind. No, true humility has nothing fake or false about it. The word itself has its origins in a Latin word - humus - which is the root of the two English words, humus and humor. A humble person knows that he comes from the humus, the dust of the earth, and will return to it; and a humble person also has a sense of humor - never takes himself or herself too seriously. Humble people can laugh at themselves because they know who they are and where they’re headed – headed for glory – not because of any personal merit, but only because of God’s grace.

     Given its importance and its greatness, it’s too bad the virtue of humility is generally held in such low esteem and that people too often settle for counterfeits. In a homily he gave some 1600 years ago, St. Augustine spoke compellingly about humility. “For those who would learn God’s ways,” he said, “humility is the first thing, humility is the second thing, humility is the third thing.” To that I would add: how hard it is to learn God’s ways! Learning God’s ways means gaining perspective on who we are and who God is: letting go of any pretensions about our importance, our achievements, our entitlements, acknowledging that any good we do is really God’s doing – for the simple reason that any gifts we have are God’s gifts.

     All this is a far cry, isn’t it, from those self-important people in the gospel story who were seizing places of honor at table. It’s worth noting the way Luke sets up the story: “On a sabbath, he tells us, “Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees and the people there were observing him carefully.” Well, as it turns out, it’s Jesus who was doing the ‘careful observing,’ and he didn’t miss much! And as so often in the gospels, he seized the moment to teach a lesson – in this case, a lesson about humility. His little parable drives home the point: you’re not as important as you think; there’s always going to be someone more important than you. Take the lowest place at table, then, and you just may end up at the highest. Of course, the point of the parable was not how to successfully jockey for a higher place; it was to get those dinner guests to face the truth about themselves. Truth is the very heart of humility.

      Back to Pope Francis. Well, back to Jesus. In today’s  gospel Jesus tells us that the best way to learn humility is to spend time with the humble: with the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind, the outcasts. And that’s, of course, exactly what Pope Francis delights in doing – whether it’s the prisoners whose feet he washes each Holy Thursday, or the homeless people he invites to celebrate his birthday with him, or the disabled and disfigured people he goes out of his way to embrace, or the people out on the margins he challenges us to reach out to, including gay people about whom he once famously said, “who am I to judge?”

     Pope Francis has certainly earned the right to challenge us by asking, “When you give alms do you look into the eyes of people you are giving alms to? If not, you have not reached out to them. You have just tossed them some charity and gone away. You have not touched them. And if you have not touched them, you have not truly reached out to them.”

     Well, I must confess that gets me to examining my conscience! It’s one thing to give a handout to a poor person; it’s quite another to meet - to truly encounter - that person. Too often, I think I may settle for giving the handout.

     The pattern for all this, of course, isn’t just Pope Francis. The pattern is first of all Jesus who, as St. Paul tells us, humbled himself to become one of us. And when it comes to Jesus, we are the ones who are poor, crippled, lame, and blind. We are! And in the Eucharist, Jesus never just gives a handout. No, he reaches out to us in our sinfulness, our brokenness, our poverty – reaches out, touches us, embraces us, loves us. And he actually takes delight in being in our company!

      And here is the challenge, my friends: what Jesus lovingly does for us at this and every Mass, we need to do when we leave this place…!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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