22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C
September 1, 2013
THE VIRTUE OF THE STRONG
Lisa Fullam makes a distinction between a pilgrim and a tourist. A tourist, she says, goes to places to see something new. A pilgrim, instead, goes some place to become someone new.
I have been a tourist myself countless times in my life. Having been there, done that, I now realize that getting some place and seeing new places alone by themselves do not necessarily make me a better person. Being a tourist makes me see new places, indeed, and I can make the necessary check marks of those places I have seen in my Michelin guide. But time eventually wears off the initial sense of novelty, and people are not really impressed by what one has seen, or where one has been, no matter how many times we tell friends and foes alike that we’ve “been there; done that.”
But friends and foes alike are impressed by what and who we have become, not because we have been to places, but because we have seen the light after we have been to those places or even if we have not seen those places.
These days, the issue of larceny on a grand scale, perpetrated by individuals in and out of government, has occupied center stage in our national consciousness. We are a forgiving and tolerant people. Truth to tell, we have always known, and tolerated the fact that many of our so-called public servants have always been engaged in some form of thievery which we love to call corruption. But there is something beyond corruption that raises up the ante of our collective indignation, and that has to do with the uncaring arrogance that some public figures seem to show in their statements and behavior. The stealing of public funds is one thing; but the issue of lying through their teeth and their uncaring, cavalier attitude towards those who pick on them, especially in social media, are quite another. In truth, such thick-faced pride, lack of empathy, and gross insensitivity to what we all feel is what angers us the most.
Nietzche, who never believed in God, also never believed that humility is a virtue. For him, humility is weakness. It means to give in to our already rotten situation of being condemned to our existential angst and loneliness as humans. Humility, for him, is to weaken even more our already rotten humanity. It means being a cop-out to what we should fighting against with might and main, and make of ourselves more than what fate has condemned us to.
Today, all three readings remind us in faith, that humility has nothing to do with weakness, with rottenness, with being less than we really are. Humility, for one, is a virtue. And this virtue is not one for the pushover and the clueless. As a virtue, it is one for the strong, the determined, the focused, and the one who knows what he wants in life.
The first time I was a “pilgrim” in Europe, many years ago as a young student priest in Rome, I was on my way toward Fatima. Coming as I was from Madrid, I took the train. I was in a compartment with four others. As we neared the border, immigration officers came and asked all four of us what nationalities we all were. One came from the US. Another came from Spain. The third came from Argentina. The man took the three for their word. When it was my turn and he asked where I was from – the Philippines, he asked to see my passport and proceeded to examine it carefully from cover to cover, something he did not do with the other three.
It was humbling to be subjected to this seeming psychological torture. I was tempted for a short while to feel humiliated, but the better side of me took over and realized that I could not be humiliated without my permission. I was humbled, but definitely not humiliated.
Being humble, according to Sirach, has nothing to do with being weak and powerless. It is a choice one makes. He lovingly speaks to us as children: “My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.” The common trend among so many of us is to simply follow the bandwagon – to be like everyone else and be caught in a rat race of sorts, towards some elusive goal or summit. There is no strength in following the current. There is no heroism is doing like everybody else does. There is no greatness in following the mainstream. But again, Sirach, nails it down for us. Humility is being different … for a reason. It is in being strong, and making a dent in society, for daring to be different: “What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength, search not.”
Humility, according to the Lord, pays in the long run. It does cost temporarily. For a while, one feels like the world has edged him or her out of the race. For some time, one may feel left out as a non-entity. That is all true.
But the strength of the humble is not what he or she can do in the end. In the final analysis, the strength of the humble really comes from God, whose dwelling is not in this earthly city, but “Mount Zion and the city of the living God.”
The strength of the humble comes ultimately from Him who “puts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly to high places.”
Be humble. Be strong. And be ready for the best: “Come on up, my friend, to a higher place.”