The theme of the readings for today is humility, and its counterpoint – pride.
Jesus invites us to follow His example of meekness and humility. The first reading, from the prophet Zachariah, anticipates the coming of Jesus as a humble king who chooses to enter the Holy City, not with the noise and splendor of a great horse, the most popular animal of war, but with the simplicity of a donkey. This is a different kind of king - a King who associates himself with the poor, the weak and the needy, and will be able to hear the cries of their hearts.
It is difficult to talk about humility today. We live in a time when everything seems upside down with respect to this virtue. Practically speaking, humility is seen as a fault – as weakness – among many. And its counterpoint, pride, is looked up to and almost seen as a virtue – as strength. So we need to begin our discussion by accepting that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the virtue of humility – misunderstanding that has seeped into our minds and hearts whether we want it to or not – it is a result of living in our times.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. Is there a part of us that sees the humble person as a little naive? Maybe someone with a bit of an inferiority complex? Someone who is too reluctant to show his capabilities – who has the idea that it is bad or sinful to show what he can do?
Many will say today – but shouldn’t we be people who take initiative? People who do more than what is expected of us? Doesn’t God want us to be leaders in the world? To change it for the better? How does this fit with the idea of humility? How can we hope to see progress in the world – how can we grow the kingdom of God - if we are all afraid to show our abilities?
We know that God does not contradict Himself – so where are the readings leading us today? What are we to do as good Catholics?
First, we have to clarify our understanding of humility and what it means in our lives? Humility is not synonymous with shyness. Actually, a shy person can be very prideful because they can be very focused on themselves. Pride acts like a barrier – a wall in our lives. And for the shy person, from the top of that wall it can look like the whole world is judging and condemning them. Their eyes are on themselves rather than God.
Humility is not an inferiority complex either. Humility doesn’t lead us to say “I can’t”, “don’t ask me”, “let someone more capable than me do it”. But many have misunderstood humility in this way. The German philosopher Fredric Nietzsche leveled this very criticism against Christians – accusing us of a having a morality of inferiority, a master-slave morality, the morality of hypocrites.
Do you think that if Jesus had suffered an inferiority complex – as Nietzsche asserts – he would have ever left Nazareth? There is nothing in the Gospels that gives us a picture of Jesus as a shrinking violet? The Gospels are filled with Jesus on a mission – Jesus as a leader – Jesus as one who forges new paths, takes initiative, builds the kingdom of His Father. Jesus was ever focused on bringing glory to the Father by bringing as many souls as possible to Him.
But Jesus was also humble. He was meek. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey rather than a horse.
Let’s reconcile Jesus as leader with Jesus as humble servant. There is a phrase that every good preacher must learn to quote. It comes from St Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church. She famously said, "Humility is a particular way of living in the truth, and the only way we know of growing in humility is to live more and more close to the truth." Jesus said, “I am the…truth.” (Jn 14:4) So the best way to learn to live in the truth is to stay very close to Jesus – in the Sacraments and in prayer. When we stay close to the Truth, we will learn to see the truth of who we are (a creature, while God is Creator), and who He wants us to be (an apostle, made in the image and likeness of God and created for nothing less than participation in the salvific mission of Jesus – to be the savior of the world with Him).
Jesus, grant me a meek and humble heart like yours.
Lord, you know that humility costs me a lot. It forces me to give up my way of seeing things, of wanting to be appreciated, of wanting always to be in control of everything. Let me be more humble like you. If following you means embracing humility, so be it. Give me the strength to accept that – and to accept the mission you have given me with trust in your strength.