Pride and Pusillanimity

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 22C

“Go and take the lowest place.” Many of us never reach our full potential as human beings or as children of God because we don’t understand and value genuine humility. While humility is one of the most important virtues and the necessary foundation for all other Christian virtues, as so many of the Saints bear witness, humility is also one of the most misunderstood of all the virtues. So what is true humility, and why do we need it? 

Humility is nothing other than having an accurate picture of ourselves, of who we are in relation to God and in relation to one another. True humility recognizes the gifts and talents that we have from almighty God and asks how we might use these gifts to better serve God and to serve our neighbor. Genuine humility should always motivate us toward service, to serve even those who cannot repay us, as we hear at the end of today’s Gospel. The most gifted man to ever walk the earth was also the most humble, Jesus Christ, and He always described Himself as One who came to serve, not to be served. 

Pride is usually what we think of as an opposite to humility because pride is thinking too much of ourselves, overestimating our importance and turning a blind eye to our genuine limitations. Pride often gets in the way of the service that God calls us to undertake because the prideful person desires instead to be served, or to serve others only in view of how we might be repaid. Pride prevents us from making a genuine gift of ourselves.

Like most virtues, genuine humility is a balance between two extremes. While pride is usually what we think of as an opposite to humility, the other extreme is probably the more dangerous because it often looks more like the genuine virtue while doing just as much or more to prevent our service of God and neighbor. This other extreme is often just called false humility for lack of a better term, but we might also call it pusillanimity, which is a big word that basically means having a tiny soul. At the other end of the spectrum from pride, false humility or pusillanimity underestimates the gifts that we have from God. We sell ourselves short, and this paralyzes us from serving God and others because we think we’re too weak, too sinful, that we don’t know enough, that we’re too busy and don’t have enough time to help out.  

Far from taking the place of honor or the lowest place, false humility keeps us from even attending the banquet to which God invites us, this banquet of love in which we are called to imitate Christ’s own service of God and of one another. Pride gets in the way, but even more so, false humility and pusillanimity cuts us off from the love that God has for us in Christian service. As we have the opportunity this Stewardship Weekend to give back to God and to His Church something of what He has given to us, to give even our very selves in service of God’s people, may Jesus fill us with His true humility, to recognize our gifts and to stir us into action.  

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