XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 September 2019
In my first year of seminary studies two very significant things happened – 1. I had the distinct opportunity to meet and shake hands with Pope John Paul II. 2. He died, sparking a conclave of the world’s cardinals to elect a new pope … Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. These events were monumental in my life … how many people get to meet a Pope? How many get to be present in Rome for a pope’s death and the election of a new Holy Father? Now, traditionally, when a pope dies, 9 Masses are said each day leading up to his funeral. I happened to go to one of those Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica with another seminarian – now a priest in Billings, MT. We went in with our clerical garb on, not very formal – no suit jackets, but dressed appropriately and sat towards the last row – like most Catholics. Well, we were spotted by one of the Papal Gentleman … now I should say that a Papal Gentleman is an attendant to the Holy Father, typically a layman and a volunteer. These men serve in the Apostolic Palace… So, one of these guys spotted us in the back row, he approach us and told us to come with him… next thing I knew we were sitting in the front row, next to the dignitaries that were in attendance and behind the bishops and cardinals concelebrating the Mass! I learned later on that not only were bumped up to prime seating, but the Mass was broadcast on EWTN and I was seen on TV by several friends from back home! Now, I am not calling myself a humble man … far from it!! We took the back pew so as not to be seen and that’s it!
Except in church who really wants to be last? It is natural to want honor, respect, credit for our accomplishments. Yet, there is something to be said for “taking the back pew” – the effort to be more humble in our daily lives. The Book of Sirach tells us that the humble have a listening ear … “an attentive ear is the joy of the wise.” What does that mean? What does it mean to be attentive? It is means to listen … when we really listen to someone we are “attentive” to that person – we take them in, we give them space, we lift them up, we make them feel loved … listening is born from humility and when we listen, when we are attentive to another person – no matter what it is, wants, needs, complaints … we confer goodness on that person … therefore, to be attentive to another, to listen, to be humble … is to love – to really love in the way that reflects the love of God …
Notice, however, that humility is not passive. It is not dormant. It is active. Love is active. Love confers … it gives honor, respect, attention to another … humility lets ourselves go in order to give place to another … how does that look in our everyday lives? How does that look in our parish community? How do we “confer goodness” on others – how are we active in showing our love not just for another human being but also for our parish community? Humility is not sitting in the back pew, hiding from Father! Humility is attentive to the needs of another – both individually and communally. And why is that? Because it is all for God … it is a reflection of the love of God in our lives and our own desire for the goodness of another.
Humility – love … celebrates, respects and honors that which is good in individuals and communities – and it beckons us to good … to do good, to confer goodness – to listen, to be attentive … be active and not passive.