Humility is the Key that Opens Doors

Photography © by Andy Coan

“Nice guys finish last,” says the world.   “The last will be first,” replies Jesus.

My guess is that the Lord of creation knows best who really wins in the end.  And he says in this Sunday’s gospel, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11).

To understand why the humble get ahead and why the meek shall inherit the earth, we need to be sure that we understand what humility and meekness really are.

Humility does not mean looking down on oneself or thinking ill of oneself.  It really means not thinking of oneself very much at all.

The humble are free to forget themselves because they are secure.  They accept the fact that, as creatures, they are small, vulnerable, and not ultimately in control.  But they know there is a Creator who is great, omnipotent, and totally in control.  And they know that they’ve been made in the image and likeness of that Creator.  That makes gives them a dignity that they don’t have to earn and can never be taken away.  Though they’ve tarnished the divine likeness through sin, they know that the Creator came down from the heights of heaven to become human and fix what they couldn’t fix.

So when they mess up, the humble don’t have to cover up.  They just say “please forgive me,” give thanks for God’s mercy, and move on.  And when their creaturely limitations cause them to fail, they are not surprised.  They realize that they are not God.

All this is simply a way of saying that the humble are in touch with reality.  If the definition of insanity is being out of touch with reality, then our proud world with its “nice guys finish last” illusion is clearly insane.

Since the humble are secure, they are strong.  And since they have nothing to prove, they don’t have to flaunt their strength or use it to dominate others.  Humility leads to meekness.  And meekness is not weakness.  Rather, it is strength under control, power used to build up rather than tear down.

The humble are not threatened either by God’s greatness or the reflection of that greatness in the talents of others.  In fact, this is what naturally catches their eye and absorbs their attention – the goodness of God, wherever it may be found.

The form of prayer that extols God’s goodness is called praise.  The activity that honors God’s goodness in other people is called affirmation.  The humble take delight in praising God and affirming people.

The reason the humble take the last place of honor at the table is not because they think ill of themselves, but because they are preoccupied with honoring others.  And the reason people ask them to move higher is because they know this admirable attitude is rare.  In fact it is actually divine.  It is exactly the way the three Divine Persons relate to each other.  The Father glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father, and the Spirit is so preoccupied with glorifying the Father and the Son that most of us feel we really don’t know much about Him.

“An attentive ear is a wise man’s joy” (Sirach 3:28).  The humble are able to truly listen to another with genuine interest and delight in the other’s goodness.  The humble are the people who give you their undivided attention and make you feel special and appreciated.  You love to have them around.  You love to work hard for them.  You cheer when they are honored.

The proud, on the other hand, are so self-absorbed that their conversations become monologues.  When you are speaking, they are not listening.  They are just thinking about what they are going to say next.  Eventually you smile, yawn, and do your best to get away from them.  You roll your eyes when they brag of their exploits.  If you work for them, you do the minimum required while looking for a better job.  So those who exalt themselves are ultimately left alone.  But those who humble themselves gather a crowd of admirers.

When asked to name the four Cardinal Virtues, St. Bernard of Clairvaux replied “humility, humility, humility, and humility.  He said this because the word “cardinal” means “hinge.”  And everything hinges on humility.  Humility opens the door to the hearts of others and to the heart of God.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) – Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalms 68:4-5, 6-7, 10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14. This series of reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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