Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 27, 2019
There are a lot of things about growing old that I am not looking forward to. But I am looking forward to the age of the “cute ol’ man”, when you can wear striped pants and a plaid shirt at the same time and people just look at you with this curious pity and say, “Isn’t he cute?” But now I’m concerned, not about wearing stripes and plaids at the same time but about wearing humility and ego at the same time. Is it possible to be humble and at the same time have a strong ego? I think so. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary for us to do so for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Our faith history is full of people that have clothed themselves with those two garments. We call them saints, men and women with a true sense of who they are and who they are not, humble and powerful at the same time.
Take St. Mother Theresa of Calcutta, for example. I don’t think anyone will argue that she was also the epitome of humility. Her very stature and way of life whispered authenticity of that humility. She never lost sight of the fact that everything that made her unique and special and powerful was not of her making; it came from God. She was simply a channel of God’s power and an instrument of God’s grace. She was not full of herself; she was just full of God.
But she also had a powerful self-image—an ego—that allowed her to go nose to nose with some of the most powerful men and women in the world and make them feel insignificant in her presence. She stood before the world convinced of her truth and convinced of the importance of what she was doing in solidarity with the most vulnerable and broken of the human family. It takes an honest and strong ego to be a saint.
Sometimes we have been slow to admit the importance of ego and are often in outright denial of the role it plays in greatness, especially spiritual greatness. I’m not talking about being egotistical or egocentric or an ego-maniac, like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, thinking of ourselves as holier or as somehow better than others. Ego does not call us to inflate ourselves before God as if God didn’t know the truth about us anyway.
What I’m talking about is that a sense of self that is confident and strong, not because of our merit or accomplishments, but because God is working through us. We cannot achieve what God calls us to achieve without believing that. We need to believe that we made great by God, a sense of self that that is grounded in our Creator.
And on the other side: too often we live with a humility that cripples us. We think that our voice won’t matter, that our vote doesn’t count, that we have nothing to offer. So, we don’t speak up for the vulnerable when we should because we are afraid of what others will think. We don’t stand up for the weak because we don’t think anyone will listen, anyway. We don’t do what needs to be done because we think we can’t make any difference. We think small and so we love small.
St. Paul, near the end of his earthly life, writes to Timothy, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge will award to me.” Is that ego? You bet it is! But it was ego that was woven to his humility. He knew that he achieved that crown of righteousness only because God had stood by him and given him strength. He knew that God used him to bring the Good News to the Gentiles; it was God who gave him that vision and the strength to carry it out. It was God who rescued him from the lion’s mouth, God who saved him for that purpose.
False humility- thinking that we are less than what we are, and false ego—thinking that we are more than what we are, are both detriments to ever achieving anything that is great in the Kingdom of God. But real, honest humility woven with a healthy, honest ego is the most powerful garment we can wear. (And it goes with everything, even plaids and stripes!)