Humility

Henry was a young and successful executive. No one really had to convince him of his importance. And the way that everyone treated him at work reassured him that this was so. 

One day Henry was traveling down a neighborhood street going a bit too fast in his brand new, rather expensive, car. He was watching for kids darting out from between parked cars and slowed down when he thought he saw something. As his car passed, no children appeared. Instead, suddenly out of nowhere, a rock smashed into the side door of the car. Furious, Henry slammed on the brakes and spun the car around back to the spot where the rock had been thrown. 

He jumped out of the car, went up to this kid and began shouting, “What was that all about, and who are you? Just what the heck are you doing?” Building up a head of steam he went on, “That’s a brand new car, kid, and that rock you threw is going to cost you lots of money. Why did you do it?”

“Please, mister. I’m sorry! I didn’t know what else to do”, pleaded the youngster. “I threw the rock because no one else would stop.” Tears were dripping down the boy’s face as he pointed around the parked car. “It’s my brother,” he said. “He can only get around in a wheelchair. One of the wheels got stuck in a crack in the sidewalk and look…”

And there was this young guy of about 16 or 17 years of age scraped up and bruised laying on the sidewalk. “I need help getting him up. Would you please help me.”

Well, this really caught our arrogant friend off guard. Moved beyond words, Henry helped get the young guy back into the wheelchair, and took out his handkerchief and tried to wipe the scraps and cuts, checking to see that everything was going to be ok. 

“Thanks, mister”, the grateful child said to him. The man got back into his car and watched the boy push his brother down the sidewalk toward his home. To his credit, Henry never did repair the car’s side door. He kept the dent to remind him not to go through life so self-centered—so fast—that someone (God, perhaps?) had to throw a rock at him to get his attention. 

The message from the readings today (this evening) is loud and clear: humility. Rick Warren, a famous preacher, once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking yourself less.” Henry had been living in his own world where he had everything sorted out according to his own way of thinking. But in many ways he was living in a world that wasn’t real. He was all about what he had acquired, his title, position, his possessions. But this pride made him insensitive to the needs of others. 

The virtue of humility is a great opportunity for us. It can unlock a door and draw us into the type of relationship that that Father wants to have with each of us. Humility experienced and expressed in the right way can change our perspective in a dramatic way. 

There’s a great quote about humility that comes from a Trappist monk, Eugene Boylan. He said this many years ago as part of a series of talks he gave to aspiring monks. But his languages is very direct and can strike a chord with all of us:

Humility is the one virtue that can take defects and shortcomings and turn them into the gold of merit and holiness. When you fail, when you find your day is not as well spent as it should have been, accept it. Tell God you are sorry you have not given him what he deserves, but as far as you are concerned: That is the truth about me. And that very acceptance of the truth will more than supply by an increase of humility for the virtues and the merits and the other things you would have gained by spending the day perfectly. You have to be content with the second best. We can never do more than our second best. We should intend to do our best but, in fact, we never achieve it. It is just as well we do not. 

What is important is that we accept the truth about ourselves. Our weaknesses should be looked at as a source of glory to God. Father Boylan’s reference to our second best is not about mediocrity or being luke-warm. The more our humility increases, the more God has a chance to work with us. And like the man in the story, the more we will pay attention to the ways of God in the days ahead.

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