Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humility (2013-09-01)

This is my homily for Sunday September 1, 2013.  I am a Catholic chaplain at  Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU, Teaneck),   FDU Newman Catholic Association,  New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City.  At FDU, Sunday Evening Mass is celebrated 5:00 pm during Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. at FDU Chapel, 842 River Road, Teaneck. 

September 1, 2013  /  22nd Sunday (Labor Day Weekend)

••• Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29 ••• Psalm 68 ••• Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a ••• + Luke 14:1:7-14 •••

[__01_]   Humility is important as we start a new academic year, a new school year.
It is often a humbling experience to start over, to ask questions about things we thought we had already answered … last year.

The virtue of humility is important for students.

However, in the Book of Sirach, humility is not just for students, not just for those coming up the ladder.

This attitude and spirit pertaining to everyone, e, and especially for leaders – for professors, teachers, priests/clergy, R.A’s … Deans,  Presidents.

After all, a person – leading others – is also setting a standard, setting a bar which others will try to meet – or not. The same call to humility to applies to mothers and fathers.

Yet, as we increase our responsibilities, this need for humility increases.

In the Book of Sirach, chapter 3, this Sunday, we read, “humble yourself the more the greater you are” (Sirach 3:18)

In the Gospel of Matthew, we are taught the same quote-unquote leadership-doctrine by Jesus:

The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:11-12)

This means that
è College seniors need more humility than sophomores;
è Deans need more humility than professors;
è Professors need more humility than students…
è Older brothers and sisters need more humility than their younger brothers and sisters.

[__02_]   Humility is the virtue that helps us to make the right choices.  Sometimes, we make choices trusting in something other than humility. We, for example, trust in..

·         … superior intelligence? Or above-average physical strength? Or good looks? …or some other form or material wealth?

With such personal characteristics or attributes, we might feel we have no need or use for humility.

[__03_]   Our Lord gives us a caution in case this is so for your or me.
Jesus gives us the example of someone desiring first class or a better seat at the table.  How would this parable apply… Consider that  you or I were at JFK or Newark Airport, boarding a plane.

We might take the seat seats in first class, just because we had reached that section of the plane first?

In the merciful Good News of the Gospel, Jesus says we would be immediately sent to ECONOMY class.

Jesus says, “you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place” (cf. Luke 14:1, 7-14)

Embarrassment ?  If we had actually taken such a seat, embarrassment would have been the least of our problems.

In the not-so-merciful world of Federal FAA regulations, we might be taken off the plane, arrested …

Are we humble only to stay out of trouble with the authorities?

But, Jesus is not limiting our humility to a forms of social etiquette …or the ethics of a dinner party.

So, humility helps us to make the right choices.

[__04_]  The virtues of patience and humility keep us out of trouble with the authorities.

Yet, would we not also admit that the parable of Jesus is offering us advice that applies to life beyond the seating plan of a wedding reception or an airplane?

Jesus is asking us to apply the Gospel to all of our transitions and journeys.

Our Lord is suggesting that we make the best choices when we acknowledge our own foolishness, our brokenness.

In other words, humility helps us to know ourselves, regardless of where we are seated, economy or first class,  honors/Advanced Placement or non-Honors.

John Henry Newman, scholar and priest of the 19th century at Oxford, reminds us that this humility is based on our respect for God … a respect summarized in the bible as “fear of the Lord.”

This “fear of the Lord”, however, is not a fright that is meant to humiliate or humble us to the point of inaction or secrecy or seclusion.

In a state of standard fear, We are not trying to get past “security” or the police or our parents without getting caught.

“Rather, fear of the Lord is simply the beginning of wisdom.  Fear of the Lord leads us to think over things modestly and honestly, to examine patiently, to bear doubt and uncertainty, to wait perseveringly for an increase of light [= knowledge, brilliance…] to be slow to speak, and to be deliberate in deciding.”[1]

 [__05__]   Humility helps us to know ourselves and to know the Lord’s call to each of us, in situations unfamiliar.

Perhaps, the most unfamiliar place and territory is our own mind and soul, when we have been relocated.

And, sometimes, we do not have “relocate” very far to find ourselves a bit lost.

The Good News … we come to the Lord’s banquet with humility.  And, we are not being humbled into a passive state of inertia, but rather prepared for action and movement.

We come to the Lord’s banquet with humility so that we will know his invitation, his timing, and the deadline  of the RSVP for whatever is coming next.

[1] J.H. Newman “Sermon 8. Inward Witness to the Truth of the Gospel,”  Book 8, Parochial and Plain Sermons (1891).  San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997, page 1632.

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