Possessing the Confidence To Be Humble
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
September 11, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) on September 1, 2019 at St. John XXIII Parish and Catholic Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, TN. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a; and Luke 14:1, 7-14.

It’s good to be back with you again! When I come back to Knoxville, there will always be lots of good visits with friends… and most of the conversations will revolve around food. 

In the gospel of Luke, Jesus exercises his ministry around a remarkable number of meals, and today’s passage is no exception. As we gather for Mass today, and as we gather for Labor Day celebrations tomorrow, let us ask ourselves: how should Jesus’ lessons at table affect how we gather for meals? Our first reading, from Sirach, gives us part of the answer.

At the table of the Lord, we are ALL children, all in need of God’s love and mercy.  Let’s celebrate that!

The first half of our gospel passage isn’t about prudently picking the right seat at a dinner party so we don’t look bad. And it’s not about treating everyone with dignity so that things go well for us when we get to heaven. We’re supposed to treat our brothers and sisters with dignity because we have a moral responsibility to them in this life, not just to ourselves in the next life! 

The main focus, in both Sirach and the gospel today, is on humility. A lot of us misunderstand what true humility is. I might not be Fr. Don, but I can still quote C. S. Lewis. Lewis said: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” 

Or, to think about it in an oxymoronic way: humility requires confidence. True Christian humility is having sufficient confidence that God loves us as we are, so that we aren’t obsessed with trying to make every person love us at every moment for everything we do. Humility is the confidence that we don’t have to do more in order for God to love us more.

I’m here this weekend to celebrate the baptisms of two children at the 11:15 am Mass. How will their parents teach them about humility? It’s not very humble to tell your children that they should look to you as examples of humility, so I will brag to these kids about their parents’ humility instead. (This homily will be recorded, so godparents, find a way to reintroduce this to your godchildren in a few years!)

William and Claire, I know your parents fairly well, since you each have a parent who came into the Church here at St. John XXIII back when I facilitated the RCIA process. Your parents are talented, goal-oriented people, but they each have the humility and the vulnerability to continually listen to God’s invitations, and change course as necessary. You are each very lucky to have the parents that you have!

The second half of our gospel passage is an even more challenging responsibility. Jesus says: “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” How do we do that in real life?

Well, it just so happens that this month is the one hundredth anniversary of one of the first documents ever issued by the Catholic bishops of the United States. Even after proving to be a major world superpower in World War I, the United States was still considered mission territory by the Catholic Church. As such, it did not have a bishop’s conference. In 1919, with reluctant approval of the Vatican, the American bishops were allowed to organize the National Catholic Welfare Conference, whose general secretary was one of the most influential Paulists in Church history: John J. Burke.

At its first meeting in September 1919, the NCWC wrote the “Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction.” This week, Bishop Frank Dewane, Chair of the U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, released a statement recognizing the wisdom of the original document.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bishop Dewane highlights three ideas from the 1919 Bishops’ Program that are still debated in our country’s politics today:

1. Back then, the Bishops condemned corporations for “the immense opportunities for oppression and extortion that go with the possession of monopoly power.”

2. The bishops said that workers cannot be “mere wage earners. The majority must somehow become owners, at least in part, of the instruments of production.”

3. Long before the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, the U. S. bishops promoted the creation of labor unions and the use of collective bargaining.

Bishop Dewane points out that today, even as corporations rake in immense profits, forty percent of our neighbors would fall into poverty within three months of unemployment. 

The Holy Spirit compels us to continue finding ways to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind to the banquet of human flourishing. There’s one banquet where we can welcome everyone each week: the Eucharist. But do we truly welcome the less fortunate to Mass, to join us in rehearsing the banquet of heaven? Or do we think of church merely as a comfortable place to gather with people who are just like us?

When I come back to Knoxville, it’s always a very… caloric experience, because one of the best ways to truly connect is over a shared meal. But even with six days in a row where I’ll be seeing friends for breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, a mid-afternoon snack, and dinner, I can’t fit everyone in. However, my favorite way to connect with people in Knoxville is right here, at this place, in this context: gathering around the Lord’s table. Here, no matter our gifts or our failings, no matter our station in life, let us be humble enough to come together as equals, welcoming others to join us, as we continue growing in confidence that God loves us as we are.