August 28, 2022
One of the things that I find most difficult to do as a priest is to sit at a head table or at “the” most special seat of honor.
I understand “the special seat” as a sign of love and affection and that it is a sign of thanks and admiration.
While I am grateful to know that I have a special place in the hearts and minds of many people, I do not like the head seat. Often, I say, “no”, that seat is reserved for the “father or mother” of the house, and I walk around to sit in the middle chair at the side of the table. You will not find me “choosing the place of honor.” I do not like “undue” attention.
The older that I become, I think that I am becoming more humble. I know that I have many personal and spiritual gifts. I did not give them to myself, God did. And I have discovered what some of them are and have let them develop. It has happened in a natural way – being recognized and called to develop the gift through serving and living with others. It has happened because I have listened, I have learned, I have changed and have wished to be the best person that I can be.
Hopefully, I have paid attention and adopted good listening and relationship skills, asking God to be in me and to be present to others through me.
Yet, I can be very human at times and very impatient. All you have to do is to ask my sister with whom I live. I stand corrected and admonished, and I start over.
Even if Jesus never told a story about “choosing places of honor at a table,” that has never been something that attracted me. Exalting oneself or humbling oneself? To what are you attracted?
Over my 81 years, especially in my seminary training and early years of priesthood, I would admire the gifts of others and want them. But then, I would hear the words of a spiritual guide: But you are you and they are them.
So, I have tried to find my own gifts, develop and use them, be happy and wholesome in my own skin. It is not about “the lowest place,” but “about being in the right place.
I think the challenge here today is not just to be humble, and less pushy or controlling, but rather to find the more creative dimensions to which Jesus is calling me to be humble.
The first meaning of humility reminds us that we are all human, that we all come from humus, the earth. The real challenge is to step out of our comfort zone and let what is different from us, to enter our own life experience Jesus suggested, “why don’t you think about inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind into your life?” It is more than a rhetorical question.
The same human nature that we share creates “ruts” in our life with which we become comfortable. The real question is not “choosing places of honor,” but rather holding on to the ruts in our life, becoming comfortable where we are and not expanding our hearts or our awareness beyond our comfort zone.
The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is a mediator of a new covenant and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel. Abel was murdered by his brother Cain. Cain could have produced a better and more wholesome project out of his life. Why be so jealous or angry, that is one’s first response – to kill what angers. The streets of our cities offer weekly example where there is no humility or civility or human-social discipline! What a rut!
The Book of Sirach asks what will quench the flaming fire of anger and suggests to “conduct your affairs with humility.” Our attitudes and our actions affect one another, because, whether we like it or not, we are all human beings and have a connection to each other.