Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95:71-2, 6-9
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Gospel: According to St. Luke 17:5-10
One of my favorite scenes from the film Camelot is a discussion between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot on the topic of humility. The queen verbally jousts with the knight, even mocking him, by speaking the term in French, slowly, as if to a simple child: “You-mill-ee-tay.”
Lancelot is confused by the queen’s line of reasoning because he believes himself to be a man of absolute purity and honor, and he takes great pride in his reputation. Guinevere, who soon began an affair with Lancelot that would destroy not only her marriage to King Arthur but bring down their kingdom, exposes the weak link in Lancelot’s personal armor: his lack of humility.
There are several virtues with which we Americans have trouble, but at or near the top of the list is the virtue of humility. We are drawn to those who focus the spotlight on themselves, and we shun those who seem too obsequious in the face of authority. We love the rebel who puts forth a bit of braggadocio – as long as he can back it up.
And yet almost everyone has in mind a line that should not be crossed, and that line is usually the one crossed by an opponent in a heartbreaking loss. If a player on our team pretends to putt a football with an end zone pylon it is just showmanship, but if an opposing player does the same thing then it’s just classless.
Inherently we are built for humility since we are built by God, but we are willing to look the other way when an act of pride or arrogance gives us the upper hand. We need to train ourselves in this and all areas where it is easier to indulge our desires rather than stand by our principles. The road to Christ-like and virtuous behavior is not the easy road or the one that gives instant satisfaction, but it is the road that we must travel if we are to reach our final destination.
There may be no greater example of humility in the history of the Church than that displayed by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, whose feast is celebrated on the first day of October. As the personification of Christian humility she would certainly be one who agrees wholeheartedly with Jesus when He spoke these words in our Gospel reading:
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
St. Thérèse chose to focus on what she called the ‘little way,’ and her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, describes a life dedicated to being a humble servant, even when one is being wronged by others. Her ‘little way’ mirrors the Way of the Cross. The greatness of the act of Christ on the cross is magnified in the moment when He chose to absorb the taunts of those who mocked Him and who pledged their fealty to Him if only He would come down off the cross.
In that obedience to His obligation to fulfill the will of the Father, Jesus eschewed the act of pride that those surrounding the cross were calling for. If pride is the greatest of all sins, then in that moment Jesus proved that humility is the greatest of all virtues.
In the face of Christ’s humility we are all unprofitable servants, yet we are still called to fulfill our obligations. St. Thérèse knew this and acted upon it throughout her life as a humble Carmelite nun. In another scene from Camelot, Guinevere asks the question, “What do the simple folk do?” St. Thérèse, in a response that would make her Lord proud, answers in the way we all should – with a life of simple humility.