Sunday Reflection, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 1, 2013): Humility, Ego and Freedom

"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." -- Sirach 3: 17-18.

Pope Francis demonstrating humility and service

“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.” — Sirach 3: 17-18.

“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” — Luke 14:11

Today is the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time.  You can find the weekly readings here. They focus on humility, a virtue that I have often struggled to live out. From my early years, my ego, my identity, was based upon how I fared in a competition with others. This played out in school, sports, job opportunities, career advancement, financial status. I had some “success” in these areas but ironically the more “success” I had, the stronger my identity (ego) became tied up in this success. The ego became a brutal taskmaster and I lost the sense of interconnectiveness among humanity. I ultimately came to worship the false idols of material and career success of Western culture.

It when the disconnect between this false ego and my authentic self became so great that I was able to finally open the door to let God in. For me, it was and continues to be a gradual process but through a deeper prayer life, I am able to recognize the ego for what it is and not let it control me. I am starting to experience authentic freedom by living in the way God intended me to be.

Today’s reflection is from Fr. John Speekman of the outstanding blog Sunday Homilies from Australia.  (I am actually going to back three years for the prior Cycle C homily as it was so excellent.) Fr. Speekman talks about the unhealthy Ego turns our focus inward on ourselves, rather than searching for the deep interconnectiveness we have with all humanity. The ego creates an I-it relationship, rather than an I-though relationship.

I encourage you to read the entire homily here, but set forth below is a modified extended excerpt:

Jesus went for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees and he noticed something. He noticed the way they were picking the places of honor. He noticed their lack of humility!

Humility, and its opposite, pride have to do with an inner attitude to ourselves, others, and God. Where does this attitude come from? How does it grow within us? What can we do to develop a ‘right’ attitude to ourselves, to others, and to God?

Servais Pinkaers OP, a wonderful moral theologian, says that early on in our history, at the time of our Original Sin, it was as though we suddenly caught a glimpse of ourselves – and a terrible thing happened.

‘I love you’ became ‘I love you to love me.’

Consciousness did a U-turn and became ‘selfish-consciousness’. Love did a U-turn and became ‘selfish-love’. It was the birth of the Ego – in the negative sense of the word – in the destructive sense.

There are two things about the Ego we should notice:

  • it has a voracious appetite
  • it is a master of disguise

The Ego has a voracious appetite. Everything is fodder for the Ego. It claims everything. It claims our gifts, our achievements, even our holiness. ‘Yep, I am much holier than you! – and I did it my way!’

The Ego is also a master of disguise. It is so cunning and so subtle but only at the beginning.

Since Ego wants its own way, and not the way of the other, it has to pretend a lot. It has to pretend it only wants what is for the best. It certainly can’t afford to let others think that it is only feathering its own nest.

It does this because the Ego wants, ultimately, that the whole world, even God, should serve it. The Ego cannot serve, it demands to be served.

Jesus himself said: I have come as one who serves and this is because he only ever did the will of his Father and not his own will.

The first, and most subtle step in the Ego’s insatiable desire to become the ruler of the world is that it has to conquer the individual – me – and you.

My Ego is hard at work trying to conquer me, and your Ego is hard at work trying to conquer you.

It begins by making servants of our hearts and minds and faculties.

  • Our ears .. so that we hear only what it wants us to hear.
  • Our eyes .. so that we see only what it wants us to see.
  • Our minds .. so we think only what it wants us to think.

  • Our hearts .. so that the only one we love is ourselves.

And then we will see only the realities that promise to further our desires. Oh, dear, what a calamity!

Jesus was totally humble – he was humility itself. He could see right through every disguise of the Ego, even the most subtle ones. Jesus never needed evidence about anyone – he knew what a man had in him and he noticed how he acted – either according to humility or pride.

  • Those who chose the places of honour.
  • The widow who put her mite in the temple coffers.
  • The tax collector, Matthew, who he called to be an Apostle.

  • The woman who anointed his feet at the Pharisees’ house.

Jesus was humble, a true servant. He did only the works his Father gave him to do and he spoke only the words his Father wanted him to speak.

So humble people are lucky people. Jesus says they will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven. But already here on earth they are lucky.

They don’t have to be jealous. They can let others have their gifts. They don’t have to hold grudges. Humble people can forgive easily because they know who they are; they know their sins. And humble people can stop hating themselves and start loving others.

Complete Homily by Fr. John Speekman

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog (www.teilhard.com) explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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8 Responses to Sunday Reflection, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 1, 2013): Humility, Ego and Freedom

  1. So on point William–each morning during my “quiet” prayer time, one of the first confessions I make is for the sin of my own arrogance of self..as that seems to be so much of the basis for where I go wrong and how I get myself into trouble. Humility, especially in our Western culture, is so hard to truly work towards as everything, here in “the West” especially, screams for strength, for the seeking of bigger, better and more …and looks upon humility as a weakness. We don’t even teach humility in schools, we teach winning, succeeding, being the best and the brightest, being number one—we jostle and jockey for power and position—hard to find humility in all of that. Thank you for the strong message this morning..”I must decrease so that He may increase”…John “got it”–he understood…maybe we will understand one day as well …. blessing to your weekend my friend—Julie

    • Hi Julie:

      You are so right about our schools and broader culture emphasizing winning and a me-first attitude rather than humility and teamwork. I love that quote from St. John the Baptist as it definitely puts everything in perspective. Hope you have a great weekend!

      P.S. I received Quiet Strength and I look forward to reading it!

  2. Donna says:

    Thanks. Beautiful and so true!

  3. Lynda says:

    Humility is indeed essential if we are to be the people God created us to be. Gratitude is at the centre of humility for I am nothing without Christ and once I realize who I am and to whom I owe my very existence, then I can begin to walk the journey with humility. Thank you for this post.

    • Lynda, very wise words. I begin my Examen prayer with gratitude along the lines you mention. You are so right that an appropriate orientation towards gratitude to God for existence helps put everything in perspective. Have a great weekend!

  4. Yes, I’m very proud of that homily! hehe! Just noticed your blog for the first time tonight, William. I’m very chuffed (in a humble kind of way, of course) … Thanks.

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