Not by Pride – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 14:7-14, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

I’m one of 10 Jesuit formators assigned to San Jose Seminary. Every year, San Jose holds an alumni homecoming, and it’s always well attended by graduates who are now priests and bishops and cardinals. Even alumni who have since left religious life still attend. So it’s a three-day reunion of old friends. But what impresses me more is that the San Jose alumni come to the homecoming as equals. But there was a year when I really got bowled over. I heard one of the bishops tell his fellow bishops: “O, reminder ha, walang magsusuot ng zucchetto ha (referring to their skull-caps).” And true enough, at the first liturgy, no bishop nor cardinal wore a zucchetto. They blended in with the rest of the Josefinos. And at the dinner that followed, the bishops and cardinals refused to be herded off to a special table, or to be served. They all stood in the long line with the rest of the alumni—Cardinals Tagle and Rosales; Bishops Ongtioco, David, Bacani, Lagdameo—they all waited for their turn. Wala silang kaarte-arte, or in the words of our seminarians, walang nagdiva-divahan. Talk about refusing places of honor at a banquet! These top guns of the Church hierarchy, they truly distinguished themselves—not by their pride, but by their humility, their deliberate effort to blend in. “San Jose is our home,” one bishop told a seminarian, “and at home, we are all family.”

That’s a nice way of putting it, isn’t it, when we’re talking about pride and humility? That when we’re “at home and with family”, we’re in a place and with company where we can stop trying to prove something. If there’s one behavioral description of pride, sisters and brothers, it’s that comportment, that positioning in word and manner by which we always want to prove something, something that we hope will call attention to ourselves—our merits, our egos, how much we know compared to others, how much more we have & are than the rest—always trying to prove something. But, when at home and with family, it’s ridiculous to still behave this way. People close to us know better. They can distinguish who we are trying to prove ourselves to be, from who we really are.

What are the everyday signs of yabang that often turn us off? The usual: name-dropping; one-upping; always finding something to criticize rather than affirm; expecting special treatment on account of one’s self-perception as being important, or famous, or old and venerable; expecting people to know who we are, like, “Hindi mo ba ako nakikilala? Paraanin mo ang kotse ko”, connecting ourselves to the popular and famous even in the most ridiculous way, “Ah, yan si Pope Francis, kilala ko ‘yan; classmate ‘yan ng kapatid ng brother-in-law ng former roommate ng third cousin ng kabarkada ko!”

Having lived in community for more than half my life now, I’ve seen the truth in what psychologists say: big ego = huge insecurity = tiny self. I’ve seen how all of us can be proud and actually are, to different degrees; which means that we all harbor some dissatisfaction with ourselves, some measure of discontent with who we are and what we have. To compensate? We brag and swagger, we over-criticize, disprove, and disapprove, we showboat and grandstand—all in an effort to costume our low self-regard, to reassure ourselves we’re special, to feed our egos because, darn it, they always seem hungry! Despite the whole banquet God has prepared for us!

So how to manage pride? How to deal with this deep-seated foible we all share? If we could take a suggestion from the Lord in today’s Gospel where he says: “When you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you.” In a very real sense, dear sisters and brothers, we have nothing to boast of before God in this banquet he has prepared. For aren’t we all  poor…in self-criticism? Aren’t we all crippled…by bloated egos? Aren’t we all lame…from lifting ourselves above others? Most of all, aren’t we all blind…to our own pride? But here’s the more important thing: the banquet. Here we are, still banqueted by God to whom we are family, to whom we are home…in spite of ourselves. And just like when we’re with family or at home—we cannot keep trying to prove something when we are with God. We come naked to his banquet. God sees through anything we costume ourselves in. And besides, there’s no good thing we have that God did not bestow, no great accomplishment we’ve achieved that God did not bless, no height we’ve reached that God did not give wings to—nothing. The most important thing is that we are so loved and honored beyond our most desperate press releases about ourselves. So why keep trying to prove that we ought to be loved more, that we ought to be honored more , that we ought to sit at a more special place at the banquet? We’re already being given all of that and much more than we can repay. And if I may say so, sisters and brothers, people around us must be so weary of our pride. We should get tired of it ourselves at some point, shouldn’t we?

Today, we also celebrate the feast of St. Augustine, and he has the perfect quote to conclude this homily: “You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending.” Amen.

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