Disfigured by Pride – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Luke 14: 1-14, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time


Humble people are teachable, which means they know how to listen. They believe there’s always something to still learn from the wisdom and experiences of others. The proud, however, listen mainly to themselves and to people who agree with them. That’s why proud people in authority rarely take “no” for an answer and rarely say “yes” to suggestions. The teachable humble grow more deeply in touch with reality. The unteachable proud grow out of touch in their own version of reality.

Humble persons put relationships before their need to be respected, recognized, and affirmed. That’s why they gain friends and retain friends. Proud people, on the other hand, have this driving need to always be right, be obeyed, and get their way. In the process, they lose friends and even gain enemies. So, while the humble make peace and unify, the proud alienate and polarize.

Gratitude is characteristic of the humble. It reminds them that blessings abound because of other people. On the other hand, the proud attribute to themselves their blessings in spite of other people. While the humble will say, “If it weren’t for you, this university, business, parish would be nowhere,” the proud will say, or think, “If it weren’t for me, we’d be nowhere.” So, the humble see humanity as a gift to them, the proud see themselves as a gift to humanity.

Humble people are not balatsibuyas. They are slow to offend, even slower to take offense, and quick to forgive. Proud people, on the other hand, are onion-skinned. They’re quick to take offense, but will not recognize their own faults. Proud people don’t notice it, but they’re often on a slow burn of sarcasm and condescension. Because of this, they have a low frustration threshold. The humble, on the other hand, have a longer leash, because they regard themselves as equally vulnerable and imperfect as the rest. And when there’s failure, their first consideration is how they might have dropped the ball.

Humble people celebrate the accomplishments of others whom they see as companions, not competitors; allies, not rivals. The proud will never admit it, but they often undervalue and begrudge people their success. For some strange reason, the success of other people hurts the proud. The humble are different. They rejoice in the accomplishments of others and are proud of them. That’s why, if you notice, proud people are defensive, while humble people are disarming.

Jesus taught about humility several times. There’s the Beatitudes; the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. There’s him with a child and saying, “Whoever humbles oneself like this little child will be greatest in the kingdom.” On three other occasions, he said that whoever exalted oneself would be humbled and whoever humbled oneself would be exalted. In his last meal with friends, he washed their feet and said, “If I, your teacher and Lord, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” The very next day, he cried out, “Father, into your hands….” Today’s Gospel is one such teaching on humility. It came up at a meal with a prominent Pharisee. Did you notice? Nothing sprang Jesus more readily into cautioning people about pride than when Pharisees were being imperious, and when his own friends were being presumptuous. It’s very easy to point out arrogance in people with rank and authority, yes. But  nevertheless, none of us can ever claim that we’ve never been proud. In different occasions, to various degrees, all of us have been and can be quite proud. No wonder, from the most ancient Hindu ashrams to the latest charismatic communities, we find iterations and reiterations of the virtue of humility. Since time immemorial, pride has disfigured us. As a disfigurement, it’s largely invisible to us. But it’s always been unnerving to people who’ve had to live with us and who see this ugliness in us every darn day.

So, how might we keep our pride in check today? Maybe two ways? First, to always be aware of our own sinfulness. For good reason, one of the psalms says, “If you, O Lord, lay bare our guilt, who could endure it?” God forbid the day should come when God lays bare our deepest, darkest sins for all the world to see, something that’s become easier in this day and age of social media and video streaming. What a dreadful day that will be when people say, “Oh, that’s why all this arrogance and the self-righteousness,” because we were trying to keep skeletons from rattling in our closets! But secondly, and more positively, maybe it’s worth a try to always be grateful. Gratitude reminds us that we’re no authors of our own success, no bestowers of our own blessings. It’s difficult to be arrogant when we’re too busy thanking people. In other words, maybe we keep our egos in check when we take time to say “I’m sorry,” and take even more time saying, “thank you.”

Like many Christ-like virtues, sisters and brothers, when it comes to humility, practice may not make perfect, but it can make permanent.

*image from the Internet

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