Finding humility and striving to change

| Father Terry Beeson | October 23, 2019 | 0 Comments

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My mother is 92 and still lives in the house I grew up in. For most of my adult life, every time I’ve gone up to visit her, we’ve played Scrabble — several games of Scrabble. I usually win and win big. But even at 92, she insists on playing.

Eventually, I will say something that can be construed as boasting, and she will immediately put me in my place, saying, “Those who exalt themselves shall be humbled.”

Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple area, with the Pharisee boasting to God about how wonderful he is, and the tax collector beating his chest, begging for mercy. I realize Jesus tells the parable to make a point to those who are convinced of their own righteousness and despise everyone else, but I cannot stop wondering if anyone actually prays like the Pharisee. I think that for most people, this episode of religious arrogance would not come up in prayer. However, this is a warning to all of us not to get too cocky by comparing ourselves to others. Our fallen human nature does have that tendency.

I must admit that I find myself shaking my head with certain members of my own family who are not on board with my mother or myself. Is it arrogance on my part? Yes. Is that attitude hard to resist? Yes.

There are elements of the Pharisee’s “prayer” that are true. After all, it is not good to be greedy, dishonest and adulterous. It is good to fast and tithe. However, boasting about it like one who is victorious at a Scrabble game does not bring us closer to God. We avoid evil and do good, not to boast about it nor to compare ourselves to others, but to strive for holiness.

I also wonder about the tax collector. When he leaves the temple, does he continue to live life the same way as before? If he does, what was the point of his prayer? Would he be of the mindset that he is too far gone, that there is no use trying? I would hope that this self-realization of being a sinner would spark a change, not continue a life of self-loathing.

Jesus said, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” How do we humble ourselves? What is humility? The way I see it, there is a scale, with pride and arrogance at one end, self-loathing and self-deprecation at the other end, and humility in the middle. To humble ourselves, we need to take an honest look at ourselves.

In the game of Scrabble, players get seven letters, and assess how to make the best use of these letters to win the game. Sometimes players fall short in making the best use of the letters. In humility, we count the blessings, the gifts, the talents God has given us, and assess how to best use those blessings in striving for holiness. But we also look at how we fall short — our sins, our foibles, our misuse of God’s gifts — and assess how we can change. This is a daily process.

Above all, after an honest assessment of ourselves, humility is coming to God, especially through the sacraments, to ask for the strength and the courage and the perseverance to do God’s will.

Father Beeson is pastor of St. Pius V in Cannon Falls and St. Joseph in Miesville.


Sunday, October 27
Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Category: Sunday Scriptures