October 23, 2022 –
The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“… the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The link between humility and divine charity helps you and me to follow Jesus. Humility is not the most important of the virtues. Divine charity—in Latin, caritas, meaning the love that is God’s very nature—is the most important virtue. Divine charity is the summit towards which we Christians climb by means of the other virtues.
Humility, on the other hand, is the base of the mountain. While divine charity is the goal that our last step brings us into the presence of, humility is the first step. The old saying reminds us that “every great journey begins with a simple, single step.”
But if humility is so simple, why do we find it so difficult to practice? God reveals to us in Sacred Scripture that one reason why humility is so difficult is the split in the human person that’s caused by sin.
Sin splits man in two. Saint Paul explained this to the Romans in his long letter about sin and grace. St. Paul taught the Romans from his own experience as a sinner, telling them, “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” [Romans 7:19]. He’s very blunt about his own moral failures, saying, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” [Romans 7:15]. Most of us, when we take a good long look at ourselves (perhaps with the help of a written examination of conscience) can identify with St. Paul in this. He has identified for us the problem.
But what is the solution? God is the solution, of course. The trick, however, is that we have to acknowledge and own the problem before God can do us any good. God so respects your free will that he allows you to remain in sin should you choose to do so. Yet if you open your heart even the slightest to Him, a flood of grace can transform you.
Unfortunately, sin has so great a hold on us that even doing this is tremendously difficult at times. That’s how perverse sin is: what should be the most natural thing in the world—opening our hearts to our loving Father—becomes one of the great struggles of the spiritual life. Jesus gives us a parable to help us see the link between humility and divine charity. Seeing this link makes it easier to take up the struggle of opening our hearts to the Father.
The Pharisee and the tax collector are opposites. It’s true that neither of them is at the summit. They’re both at the base of the mountain. But they are opposed to each other as they stand at that base because they are facing in opposite directions.
As a result, because the Pharisee stands and looks away from the mountain, every step he takes will remove him farther from the mountain’s summit. But the tax collector is facing the mountain and looking up towards God and the summit that he has yet to climb.
He has a long road before him. But his first step forward is an act of humility. He is doing what you yourself need to do. You need to face the divine Father who loves you in your sins, and who calls you to Himself by your offering Him a confession of your sins.
If you listen closely to the words of today’s Gospel Reading, you hear Jesus carefully point to the difference between the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus explains that the Pharisee “spoke this prayer to himself”. He wasn’t truly praying at all. The Pharisee was speaking the words of a prayer to himself, not to God. But the tax collector teaches us how to pray because he prays with humility.
The link between humility and divine charity helps you and me to follow Jesus. This is true not only in our prayer, but in everything we do. In everything we do, before we even take our first step, we have to act with humility by facing the right direction and looking up to God, instead of acting for our own sake. Humility is the beginning, and divine charity—the life of God—is the end. But without the right beginning, we cannot reach the right end: the end for which God made us.