A reflection on the readings for August 28, 2022, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
One of the most formative moments of my life came during the end of the first semester of my first year in college. Being a brash, overconfident 18-year-old, I signed up for a 300-level history course—the History of Continental Europe, 1815-1914. The professor was a stern man, what you might call an old school teacher, preparing to retire after the semester. In his final lecture, he stood before the class and said, “The universe is a vast, immense place. In the grand scheme, you play an insignificant part. You’d do well to remember that.” Or something to that effect. The final words of a long, distinguished career. Now that may seem dark and a bit macabre, but, at least for me, it was the right message at the right time.
Catholic theology has traditionally viewed pride as the root of every human vice; pride goeth before destruction and all. If pride is the start of every problem, then it stands to reason that humility is the start of every solution. St. Thomas Aquinas said that humility is the queen of virtues. Humility allows our other good qualities to shine fully and be most helpful to ourselves and the world.
An attentive ear is the joy of the wise.
Humility is the honest recognition that what we do not know will always outweigh what we know. Humility realizes that at the heart of every person are experiences and thoughts that we will never know. Each human person is much deeper and more complex than we fully understand. Humility likewise recognizes that what we know about God is infinitely surpassed by what we don’t know about the Almighty. So we can spend a lifetime and beyond learning more. The humble Christian does not respond to every conflict, every theological dispute, or every unexpected course of events with righteous indignation but with the humble recognition that they may be the one in error. It also means that we must always be ready for our understanding of the nature of God to mature and grow. If the full richness of the mysteries of our faith is ultimately beyond our human understanding, then the Christian who approaches said mysteries in humility should be consistently surprised and challenged.
“Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust”
As a priest, I say those words at every burial. They recall the second story of creation from the book of Genesis and Adam’s creation from the dust of the ground. They are a reminder of where we come from and where we will one day return. We are created in God’s image for eternity, but we are also created from the dust. Being humble means remembering the things in this life that we are most likely to be arrogant or prideful about—prestige, power, money, or appearance can all be used for good and should be, but none of them last, and none are eternal. So many things that consume our energy and time in this life are destined to return to ashes and dust. Having pride in ashes and dust is a pointless endeavor.
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above.
Humility is recognizing that everything we have is a gift. We did not come into existence through any act of our own. Everything that we are and everything that we have is due to God’s overwhelming generosity and love. And so we are gracious and humble as we receive and put our gifts to good use.
Being humble doesn’t mean we aren’t confident; it means knowing the source and the value of the things we have. It also doesn’t mean we don’t live life to the fullest; Jesus assures us today that being humble allows us to flourish, succeed, and become well-integrated and joyful. So we remain humble before all of creation, other people, and God. We recognize the limits of our own knowledge and understanding. We recognize the gifts and talents we have received for what they are and don’t place too much stock on temporary things. And we humbly give thanks to our God for everything that we are and everything that we have.
Image: “Icon Banquet and Invitation,” by Ted, via Flickr. License: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0).
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Fr. Alex Roche is the pastor of St. Maria Goretti Catholic Church in Laflin, Pennsylvania and serves as the director of vocations for the Diocese of Scranton. Ordained in 2012, he has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University. He went to college with a girl who went to high school with the niece of the guy who played Al in Quantum Leap.
You can listen to his podcast at www.wadicherith.com.