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Only with humility

The saints have shown through their holy lives that humility can stand up to challenge a proud world

Reflection for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

In any social or economic transaction or relationship, we may find ourselves either on the side of the “host,” or the party graciously “serving;” or on the side of the “guest,” or the party “being served upon.”

Indeed, not in all cases, will such transactions involve money, such as those involving buyers and vendors; though in many cases, benevolence may be an inspired state-of-mind, such as those involving the giving and receiving of gifts. But as our readings has firmly contended for all cases, and for all relationships, humility must be its disciplined disposition.

“Serving” or “being served upon” presupposes at least a suspension of our primal self-centeredness, for a reflexive grounding upon the sources of our potential errors and weaknesses, as well as a critical openness towards the strangeness of the other, and the mystery of the supreme Other. The art of the “downward movement” of humility is inversely proportional to the fortune of the “upward movement” of our advantages and opportunities: “The greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and thus you will find favor with God. For great is the power of the Lord and it is the humble who give him glory.” The Christ himself warns, “For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

The key skill to learn for genuine grounding and openness in this “true virtue of humanity,” is simple listening, especially to the wisdom which contradicts one’s own, an “attentive ear” who “reflects on proverbs.” Pride, being one if not the most oppressive manifestation of our primal self-centeredness, engendered by our stubborn refusal to listen — the baseless claim that we are always “better than someone else,” that “we who serve, are more knowledgeable than those being served upon” — is thus a greater abomination of our humanity than we ever thought possible. And so, “For the sufferings of the proud man there is no remedy.”

Not sapience nor technology, but humility, may be the real “first sign’” of civilization.

Hence, when we are invited as “guests” to the “solemn feast,” “do not choose the best seat,” but “go rather to the lowest seat.” When we are “being served upon.” let us try not to behave as if “important” or “deserving.” Blessed are those who have chosen to live on the simple necessities of life, having enough food, sufficient clothing and a comfortable small shelter where one can be sustained, work for a living, and lift up her soul to God. Blessed are those who deem themselves less than all others, for in the eyes of our Lord who is always greater, their hearts are pure and prepared to love without conditions.

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When on the other hand, we are tasked to serve as “hosts” in the “solemn feast,” “invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Fortunate are you then, because they cannot repay you.” When we are “serving,” let us give importance to all those unfairly treated as “unimportant” or “undeserving.” Blessed also are those who under unjust conditions, are compelled to be sustained on what is barely enough to survive; who under a culture devoid of mutual care and responsibility, are compelled to live in the absence of love. Blessed are those who are forced to become less than everybody else, for our Lord shall remember them and will not rest until they are rendered the dignity of being living images of the Spirit.

The saints have shown through their holy lives that humility can stand up to challenge a proud world; their enduring memory celebrated for all time in the Eucharistic sacrifice and in festivities held by generations of disciples, devotees and admirers, proves that only humility can conquer it. Authentic service to the kingdom of justice and peace, is possible only with humility; and only with humility can both “serving” and “being served upon” be eventually blessed.

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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