Sunday Scriptures

Defining the Virtue of Humility

by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise

ng or banquet that involved assigned seating understands the dynamic at work in today’s Gospel. As invited guests, we all know that we are welcome. The seating arrangement, however, puts that welcome into a different perspective. The presumption, of course, is that the closer one sits to the guest of honor, the more important his or her presence is.

The dilemma in today’s Gospel is that seating was not arranged beforehand, and the guests were left to choose where they felt they should sit. There we have the scene set for the embarrassment of those who had to be asked to take a lower place and the joy of those who were invited to a more noble seat.

The theme offered in the Gospel is that whoever humbles himself will be exalted while he who exalts himself will be humbled. The first reading from the Book of Sirach also invites us to humility — “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

The Scriptures hold humility as something positive and rewarding, and yet neither reading actually defines what humility is.

When I was a child, grammar school age, we lived in an apartment in City Line that was comfortable even though no one had his own room. When the extended family would get together, there was no one room that could accommodate everyone for dinner. So, there was an “adults’” table in the kitchen and a “kids’” table in the living room.

The food was the same, of course. The real difference was in the atmosphere and conversation. We talked about teachers, school, sports, television, music and the myriad topics pertinent to our age. The adults talked about politics, religion, economics and the quality of the food.

Every once in a while, the seating would be off and the youngest member of the adult table would have to sit with the kids or the oldest of the kids would have to sit with the adults.

As much as the adults may have envied our laughter and we may have wanted the feeling of being recognized as “grown-up,” whenever this need to switch tables of loyalty actually happened, it always ended in discomfort.

The simple reality was that even though we all loved one another as family, the separation of tables gave us the opportunity to talk with one another about what was pertinent to our experiences. Adults at the kids table generally put a damper on the conversation and ended up asking a lot of questions, whereas the youngster who was elevated to the adult table often felt excluded from the conversation and would have preferred to give up the flattery of being chosen and spend the meal with his peers.

Simply put, we were convinced that kids belong at the kids’ table and the adults at the adults’ table. Therein, I suggest, we can find the definition of humility.

It is not about the higher place or the lower — it is about finding the place that is right for me. True humility comes from reflecting on our gifts and shortcomings and coming to understand that although we cannot do everything, there is always a place for the gifts and talents we bring.

Problems arise when I want too much too soon or refuse to acknowledge what I have to offer because I don’t consider it worthwhile.

Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote, “Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. To be humble is not to make comparisons.”

Max Ehrmann, author of the well-known poem “Desiderata,” put it this way, “If you compare yourself to others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”

I am everything and I am nothing are equally untrue. Humility invites us to see ourselves not in competition with one another but as all loved equally by Him and to strive to reflect that love to one another, each in our own unique way.


Readings for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 3: 17-18, 20, 28-29

Psalm 68 4-5, 6-7, 10-11

Hebrews 12: 18-19, 22-24A

Luke 14: 1, 7-14


Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka parish, Maspeth.

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