Humble Words

For Sunday, August 28, 2016, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

There was thunder and lightning. It was quite a light show that God put on last night! But this morning at 6:00 am the world is quiet again. The eastern sky is washed in a pinkish peach with receding dark clouds reminding the world of the passing turmoil. Above all of this is the morning star, quietly present, always there after the night storm passes.

Our American world seems to be in the storm stage politically. There is still thunder and lightning, but it will pass as it always has. It will march off into history and a new day will dawn. Strange as it may seem, the quiet of the morning star will be there … a personage who is not “donner and blitzen.” Have you seen him? With the storms and rising light of a new president on the horizon, you may not have noticed the quiet star. It, he, is quietly there by the name of “Sully.”

Tom Hanks is playing the role. The movie is out and being advertised on TV. Just plain Sully, no frills even in the title. Many of us remember his story. The image of an airliner floating in the Hudson with survivors standing on the wings still comes to mind when his name is mentioned. Chesley Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger III was an instant hero after he successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 off Manhattan Island on a cold January day in 2009. It was shortly after takeoff, when a flock of Canada geese collided with the plane. Because of Sully’s expertise all 155 passengers survived.

Do you remember the interviews with “Sully” after his amazing feat? He was modest about his acts of courage, crediting all to his training over the years. He shared, “One way of looking at this might be that for 42 years I’ve been making small, regular deposits in this bank of experience, education and training. And on January 15 the balance was sufficient so that I could make a very large withdrawal.” These are humble words.

Modern society seems to think that humility is meekness combined with weakness. In Sully there appears a quiet core of strength. He speaks the truth with no frills or self-aggrandizement. That’s what Jesus talks about in his parable. That’s the manner in which Sully shared his experience when he emerged as a hero.

Pride is one of the most subtle and powerful tools of the devil. It has gradually shifted in our way of thinking to something that is good. “I’m proud to be an American.” “We are proud of our athletes in the Olympics!” “Hold your head up and be proud!” Yes, there is a good side to pride. But it’s the overemphasis on self that is dangerous. When we give trophies and stars for insignificant achievements to the very young, that’s dangerous. When we live life as though we are entitled to the “good life” without using our gifts to their fullest through hard work and application, that’s dangerous. When our life is centered around “me, me, me!” that’s dangerous. The superabundance of “selfies” is a dangerous sign of our self-centered society. It’s one way of taking the higher place at the banquet table. Ours is a “me first!” society.

Humility is truth. It is recognizing that God is the source of all our gifts. Everything we have and are is God-given. In America, the self-made entrepreneur is admired and held up as a model for all. But the talent and energy and drive that propels that person’s achievement is all God-given. There is absolutely nothing that we can claim as our own. A proud Christian, a follower of the humble Christ, is simply a living oxymoron. Christ, the Son of God, lowered himself to our level when he took our human nature. He took the lowest place at the table of intelligent creatures. It’s simply unthinkable that any of us would put ourselves above him.

As always, avoiding extremes is the name of the game. We are not to imitate Dickens’ Uriah Heep. His humility was false. Truth is what it’s all about. If I sing well and am praised, then I thank God. If I am a successful businessperson, I thank God. If I have natural beauty, then I thank God. No matter what I’m praised for, I recognize that God is the source. I may not say that out loud. I may respond as Sully did, with the facts, but interiorly, I thank God.

Living like this is not flashy. It’s living like the quiet, peaceful, always present morning star. Our first reading begins, “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Patricia DeGroot, OblSB

PRAYER

Disturb us, Lord, when
we are too well pleased with ourselves,
when our dreams have come true
because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrived safely
because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
with the abundance of things we possess
we have lost our thirst
for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision
of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
to venture on wider seas
where storms will show your mastery;
where losing sight of land,
we shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
the horizons of our hopes;
and to push into the future
in strength, courage, hope, and love.

“Disturb Us, Lord” prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, c. 1577.

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