04 November 2006

Humility: True or False?

Today's Gospel is a gentle reminder to cultivate that very attractive -- yet very hidden -- virtue of humility. Jesus gives us the example of one who seats himself at a wedding, suggesting that he should seek of place of lesser honor so as to avoid the humiliation of being demoted, so to speak, were a higher ranking guest to arrive. This example, however, might seem a little foreign to us in a culture where our social structures often preclude such an embarrassing faux pas. Today, most weddings or other formal events have pre-arranged seating assignments. In view of this, we might have a hard time seeing this Gospel as little more than a lesson in politeness.

What Jesus is getting at, it seems, is the interior disposition of the person. We should not seek places of honor, yet we should accept them graciously if they are offered to us. If we were to sit at a lower place in order that we may be noticed when our seat is changed then, perhaps, we have lowered our seat without humbling our heart. If, however, we were to sit at a lower place, content to be there and accept graciously an offer to move higher -- if we receive such an offer -- we find our heart in quite a different place. It is not where we sit that matters so much as how our hearts are disposed. And that is known to God alone.

It should come as no surprise that St. Francis de Sales has a great deal to say about this most august of virtues. This is a mere snippet:
"We pretend to hide ourselves, so that the world may seek us out. We feign to wish ourselves to be considered the last in the company and to sit down at the lowest end of the table, but it is with a view that we may be invited to pass more easily to the upper end. True humility does not make a show of itself or use many humble words; for she desires not only to conceal all other virtues, but most of all to conceal itself."
St. Francis de Sales

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