Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily, August 29, 2010. Humility Ken Hughes SJ



St. Mary of the Angels


Ken Hughes SJ




Four days of rain followed by three days of sun this week have made our lawns and gardens flourish.  That is a good image as we talk about humility today because the word, “humility,” comes from the Latin, “humus,” which means rich, fertile ground.  And, humility is the fertile ground from which our life can flourish.  Obviously, as we listen to the readings this morning, we can’t escape talking about humility.  The author of Sirach advises, “Conduct your affairs with humility,”  and “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God,”  while Jesus summarizes his teaching with, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Lest we misunderstand what humility is, let me say, first, that we are not talking about humiliation, when one is “put down, ridiculed.”  Nor are we talking about being a wimp letting people push us around.  Nor are we talking about the false humility of Uriah Heep in Charles Dickens’ novel, David Copperfield, who kept boasting how humble he was.


Rather, humility is truth.  Humility is the deep, heartfelt acceptance of a threefold truth:


1.      The truth of who I am before God as a finite creature before the infinite Creator of the world and my Creator.

2.      The truth of who I am before myself, --  as one both blessed and wounded, as beloved and sinner, as “immortal diamond,” yet dust from the earth. 

3.      The truth of who I am before my neighbor, --not pretending to be more than I am, nor considering myself to be better than anyone else, nor using power over anyone, yet not holding and hiding my gifts out of fear either.


This week, I finished my first week working with the Jesuit Tertians, the Jesuits in our program who are preparing to make their final vows.  All have been ordained and have been in ministry for several years.  This past week, we each told our life story, our autobiography.  Next week, we will share our faith journey.  We will talk of those special God-moments in our life, moments when we were most aware of God, times when God intervened, tragedies when God raised us up, moments of calls to a way of life, a relationship, a work, a place, a ministry.  Obviously, the story we tell this week overlaps with the story we told last week. 


I heard some amazing stories this week:

   One man from Vietnam spoke of his escape from the Communists as he with his parents and ten siblings, scattered in small boats, drifted for days on stormy seas, waiting for a  larger ship to pick them up and bring them to safety.

   Another man, a West Point graduate, asked to be assigned to Alaska and join an elite Green Beret Command, only to strike up a friendship with a bishop who invited him to join in a mission to Russia.  Now, as a Jesuit, he belongs to and ministers in the Russian province.

   A third man described how, as a confirmed atheist and high on marijuana, he was walking home at 2 a.m. on a cold winter night, when suddenly, God held up before his eyes both his happy, religious childhood and his current drab, empty life.  In the moment he realized that he had gotten rid of God because he had never forgiven God for taking away his father with MS  when he was just seven years old. 


As I listened to story after story, and told my own as well, two thoughts came to me:

  First:  how wonderfully God finds the fertile ground in each of us and plants there seeds of truth about God, about self, about neighbor.  And when a person waters those seeds of truth, life and love blossom, faith and hope flourish -- a transformation begins to take place which becomes salvation for the person and a blessing for the world.  And God must be very, very happy!

  Second: I thought of you at St. Mary of the Angels.  You each have a story to tell, a faith journey to share.  Your story may not be as dramatic as the three I just related, but each one, I am convinced, must be amazing: your family of origin, your growing up, years of education, the people who influenced you, various occupations, relationships, marriage, ministry, the hardships and setbacks,  and how God has revealed Himself to you in your journey.


I wish that there were ways for you to share your story because, first of all, when you tell your story to others, you see more clearly and appreciate more deeply how God has been acting in your life to the present moment and how God promises to be with you as you move forward.  And, secondly, as we listen to the faith journey of one another, we are so enriched and strengthened as we realize that we are not alone in our experiences of God, not alone in our weaknesses and struggles, not alone in our drifting and wanderings.  And, yes, it does take humility to place our stories honestly before one another.  But what a community strengthening in faith! 


Humility, as I said at the beginning, is truth and the acceptance of truth: truth before God, before ourselves, and before one another, -- but not truth for its own sake.   Jesus, in St. John’s Gospel, said:  It is truth that will set you free.  We move from humility and truth to freedom. 


47 years ago yesterday, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.  with humility, spoke the truth about his dream, God’s dream, the people’s dream.  It was a speech for unity and peace.  From that day emerged a stronger energy for justice, equality and freedom.

47 years later, The Tea Party has co-opted both the March on Washington anniversary and The Lincoln Memorial to proclaim with arrogant pride lies about “restoring honor,” about civil rights, patriotism, true values, and what it means to return to God.  Such speakers incite division and anger.  The work of 47 years and freedom are in danger of being lost.


Humility is not cowardice.  Rather, humility takes courage.  To search for and speak the truth with humility takes courage.  May we at St. Mary of the Angels help one another and help our people in that journey to freedom to which God invites each one of us.


 Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

 Brighton, Mass. 

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