22nd Sun [C] – 2010

Fr. Charles Irvin

Sirach 3:17-18, 20; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1,7-14

T.S. Eliot was an American-born English poet and playwright, arguably the most important English-language poet of the past century. In one of his most famous plays, The Cocktail Party, he had a major character say: “Half the harm that is done in the in the world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm – but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it, because they are absorbed in an endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

Self-esteem, proper self-esteem, not ego-centrism, is a good thing; it can properly motivate us. We feel good when doing good and that inspires us to do more good. On the other hand if we pursue self-esteem in craving for honor, power, and glory it can be a terrible scourge. Furthermore people who have a bad image of themselves more often than not perpetrate terrible crimes and inflict great pain on others, especially on members of their own families and on those who must live or work with them on a daily basis.

We’ve often heard it said, “Money is the root of all evil.” Actually is it the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil. Money itself is simply a tool, and at times a very useful tool. When put to proper use it can do much good. Greed is what causes so much grief in our world. The root cause of the economic recession in which we now find ourselves was greed, corporate greed as well as individual greed – greed flowing from misguided views of self-worth, twisted self-esteem, and ego-centrism, greed in the hearts of people who were trying to fill a hollow space in their inner selves.

This brings us to consider the importance of humility, a virtue that is much misunderstood. Humility is not simply a social grace that makes us attractive to others. With a properly based humility we set aside our own wills and seek out God’s will. Humility causes us to act while recognizing that our talents and abilities were given to us for God’s purposes, not for our own self-satisfaction.

Let’s be clear: humility is not humiliation. Humility is an inner, personal virtue. Humiliation is something that is inflicted upon us by others. In the kind of world we presently abide a sense of self-esteem is not easy to achieve and is even more difficult to maintain. We are an impatient people. We are rude, something we see in nearly every TV talk show. Even our children are many times subjected to bullying, mockery, and humiliation. The great American epithet is “LOSER!”

Every time these things happen to us we suffer a subtle attack on our sense of self-esteem. Every time we treat another person unworthily we are telling him or her that he or she is not very important. Is it any wonder that so many people are engaged in a constant struggle to think well of themselves?

Jesus knows the power of a good sense of self worth. Did Jesus ever tell you to love your neighbor? No, He did not! He said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In today’s Gospel account, did Jesus rebuke those who were seeking a healthy sense of self-esteem? No, He did not. But He did rebuke the phonies, the Pharisees.

Those dinner guests were making the same mistake that you and I so often make. In the struggle to think well of themselves they sought to manufacture an appearance of importance. Who among us has never done similar things? We may not scramble for a place of honor at dinner tables but we do have subtle ways of promoting ourselves while trying to show others how important we are. That’s a hollow achievement because we end up by only showing others how important we think we are. Importance, we must remember, is something that is given to us – we don’t make ourselves important.

How do we promote ourselves? We do it with the clothes we wear and the cars we drive and acquiring things. We do it with the place we go to and the people with whom we want to be seen. We do it by criticizing others, mistakenly thinking that putting someone else down builds us up. We use all sorts of subtle ways of advertising our selves.

All of these things usually result from our struggle to think well of ourselves. The basic problem with all of our methods is their futility. They simply do not work. With these schemes of self-promotion we do not fool many people, if any. Most of all we do not fool ourselves because deep down we know what the truth is.  The man who thought he was going to seat next to the host in today’s parable ended up being forced to face the truth.

Jesus continually taught us that each and every person is important – the shared dignity of each and every living human being. Look at that crucifix. It tells you of the value, the worth you have in God’s eyes. God thinks that you are worth dying for and God proved that by permitting His beloved Son to die for you on that Cross. THAT is your worth and value in God’s eyes.

Once that truth has gripped our hearts we can sit at the head of any table or at the foot of any table. We can put on the apron of servitude and serve others or we can permit ourselves to be served. It simply does not matter. There will be no more need for us to prove our importance. All we need do is humbly and gratefully receive the importance God gives us. We will have won the victory in the constant struggle to think well of ourselves. For the truth is that what we think of ourselves simply doesn’t matter that much at all.

God, however, thinks that we matter, and matter a whole lot. He has given to us the task of revealing His kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Furthermore, He has given us the gifts and talents to do so reminding us that we should not hide His gifts under a bushel but rather should let them shine out in our darkened world so that people could honor and respect His love for us. He has given us the honor and dignity of being His co-workers in bringing His creation to its ultimate completion.

Once again, the only thing that matters is what God thinks of us. The only thing that matters is how God sees us. Humility is found in accepting what God has in mind for us and then acting accordingly. That is the only importance that matters.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”