22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
August 29, 2010
Lk 14:1, 7-14
The science class was discussing about whales. The teacher pointed out that this large
creature has a very small throat that would make it physically impossible to swallow a
human. But one boy objected: “But according to the Bible, Jonah was swallowed by a whale!”
The teacher dismissed the comment and insisted that it was simply impossible. The boy
reluctantly gave up and said, “When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah”. The teacher teased
the boy and asked, “How sure are you that Jonah is in heaven? What if he went to hell?” The
little boy replied, “Then you ask him”.
One night a little girl was watching her mother preparing her bed. For the first time,
she noticed strands of white hair sticking out of her long shiny black hair. She suddenly
asked, “Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?” Her mother replied, “Well, this is what
happens when little girls misbehave. Their moms become unhappy, and one by one the hairs
turn white.” The little girl thought about this for a while and then happily announced her new
discovery: “Now I know why ALL of grandma’s hairs are white!”
The moral is: Don’t ever mess with children. They have their way of expressing the truth with
candor and profound wisdom that often leaves us dumbfounded. We get valuable lessons
from them. In relation to the Gospel today, if little children are invited to a party, we will be
certain that not one of them will mind where they will sit at table. Their only concern is to be
with friends, to eat and have fun. Not one of them cares about position, honor or fame.
But among adults, it is the opposite. The focus is on the self. Before going to a party, they
would spend great time and money making sure they will look good – nice shoes and dress,
hair and makeup, expensive perfume and all trimmings imaginable. And when they finally
arrive at the party, their main concern is not the food or the program, but on how much
attention they get from others.
It is said that there two kinds of people who come to the party. The first is the one who
enters as inconspicuously as possible, looks around for a familiar face, and finding one,
says, “There he is!” The second is the one who enters the hall with fanfare to make sure
everybody notices his coming, practically announcing, “Here I am!” To the first group belong
the little children and the childlike. To the second group are the selfish and proud adults.
Last Sunday, the parting words of Jesus is a warning: “Some who are first will be last, and
some who are last will be first.” It is definitely a lesson on humility. This lesson is further
underscored this Sunday. The first reading from the Book of Sirach gives this exhortation:
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.
Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” In the
Gospel, the advice of Jesus to the guests seeking places of honor at table was obviously a
practical lesson on humility: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one
who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Unfortunately, humility is not an attractive virtue. This word itself comes from the
Latin “humus”, which means, “soil”. Who wants soil, anyway? Everybody wants diamond
and gold, but not soil – it’s messy and dirty! But where do gold and diamonds come from?
We would prefer to be the tall and mighty building, rather than the soil on which we dump
our tons of trash. But where do we walk on without soil? Where will those magnificent
buildings and structures stand on without soil? Where will the trees and plants grow? Just as
soil is essential to our earthly existence, so also humility is to our soul. Yes, humility is not
attractive, but it is essentially necessary in our spiritual life. It is impossible to think of any
Christian virtue and holiness without it. Though unattractive, humility makes one attractive to
God and to others: “you will be loved more than a giver of gifts…you will find favor with God”,
the Book of Sirach assures us. It is precisely the humility and obedience of Jesus that exalted
him to the heavens, “and bestowed on him the Name above every other name.”
It behooves us, therefore, to constantly check ourselves to make sure our ego is not inflated.
The doctor tells us to have regular medical check up and watch out for the rising numbers of
cholesterol, sugar, salt, blood pressure in our system. They do not go up in an instant, but
they result from a long period of unhealthy food and drink intakes and bad habits.
In a similar way, in our spiritual life, the sin of pride does not appear instantly. As little
children, we did not have it. But as we grew up, we gradually learned unhealthy habits that
accumulated and stuck to our person like cholesterol plaques that constrict the flow of blood
in our arteries. Then, our ego steadily began rising, and without noticing it, pride has slowly
gripped and hardened our heart, threatening us with spiritual stroke and paralysis.
There are clear symptoms of pride that we can easily recognize. When we expect praise and
appreciation for every good thing we do; when we are too shy to come out and volunteer our
services and talents because we are afraid of being criticized; when even a small negative
comment about our work easily hurts us; when we enjoy talking about the mistakes and sins
of others; when we fiercely believe we are always right and refuse to listen to the opinion of
others; when we always seek positions of prestige or power; when we are afraid or unwilling
to let go of a position or function that makes us feel important and indispensable – these are
all but a few examples of pride getting into us.
Undoubtedly, pride has a lot of various and subtle manifestations. Awareness of them can
greatly help us overcome its ugly head. On the other hand, humility is not very easy to
practice and notice. Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “Humility is like an underwear. You have
it, but you don’t show it.” Nowadays, when we see people walking on the streets with their
underwear exposed, we begin to realize how increasingly difficult it is to teach the virtue and
value of humility in these times. Nevertheless, let the words of the Prophet Micah serve as
a reminder to us: “You have been told, O Man what is good and what the Lord requires of
you: only to do right, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8). And
Jesus said, “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002