Humility, the Key to Happiness
User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 1.
Sunday, Sept. 1, is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle I).
Pope Francis has earned a reputation as a humble pope. Sept. 3 is the feast of another humble pope: Gregory the Great. St. John Moschos, an abbot, recounted this story of the great Benedictine: "One day, as I was standing in the city center [of Rome], I saw that Pope Gregory was going to pass by. … When the Pope came near and perceived that I was about to prostrate myself — the Lord is my witness, brethren — he prostrated himself down to the ground and refused to rise until I had got up. He embraced me with great humility, handed me three pieces of gold and ordered me to be given a monastic cloak, stipulating that all my needs were to be taken care of. So I glorified God, who had given him such humility towards everybody, such generosity with alms and such love."
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68:4-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14
Today’s readings are about humility — specifically, they are about how humility can make you happy. Very happy. "The just rejoice and exult before God," says the Psalm. "They are glad and rejoice."
Here are the three ways humility makes you happy, according to the readings.
1. Humility sets your expectations low, so you sometimes surpass them. Jesus’ first bit of advice in the Gospel is about setting your own expectations low. Do not choose the place of honor at a banquet, he says: "A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place." Instead, choose the lowest place, he says.
Then you will be surprised by being given something greater. People have a tendency to be greedy for more and greater things. But greed leaves people dissatisfied with what they have. The beatitudes counsel the opposite. "Happy are those who are poor in spirit," says Jesus. The humble don’t expect much, and so they are happy with what they get. The first reading from Sirach agrees. "What is too sublime for you, seek not," it says. "Into things beyond your strength search not."
2. Humility improves your relationship with others. Nobody likes a boaster; everybody loves a humble person. Jesus describes what happens when you are moved up at the table. "You will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table," he says.
Or, as the first reading puts it, "My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts." The quietly pleasant person who admits who he is and is fine with it is always nicer to have around than the pushy and self-seeking person who pretends to be something he is not.
3. Humility allows God to have a relationship with you. The proud crowd out God; the poor in spirit let him in. "When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind," says Jesus. "Blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
The more you try to find your happiness in the world, by impressing others and by currying favor, the more restless and unhappy you will be. The more you trust in God for your happiness, forgoing the search in this world in favor of the next, the more open you are to true happiness. "Humility is the foundation of prayer," says the Catechism (2559). "Only when we humbly acknowledge that we do not know how to pray as we ought are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer." Sirach agrees. "Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God."
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.
- Aug. 25-Sept. 7, 2013