a beauty yet unseen

There is a country song popular some thirty-five years ago, written and sung by Mac Davis which begins ”Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way. I can’t wait to look in the mirror cause I get better looking each day.”  We may laugh, but the truth is that there are far too many who would unhesitatingly agree and add, “Now, ain’t that the truth!

A Place Of Honor

A Place Of Honor

To be humble is hard for we quite naturally—at least on the face of it—wish to feel appreciated, valued, and recognized for who we are and what we do. Yet, despite what the lyrics say and in spite of what some may think or believe of themselves, no one is perfect in every way.

There is, of course, one who is perfectly humble in his perfection and that is God. Yet we in our vanity are want to be as gods—but poor imitations of the one true God who is perfect in every way. It is vanity that refuses humility its rightful place for vanity would recline nowhere but the place of honor.

Saint Thomas Aquinas says: “All created perfections are in God. Hence He is spoken of as universally perfect because He lacks not any excellence which may be found in creatures.1 God in his perfection and out of his boundless love has created all manner of delightful “perfections” as Aquinas calls them—good things—stars, seas, mountains, sunsets, music, food, and especially man and woman, made in his image and likeness. Saint Thomas calls us to realize that all created perfections, which are of necessity finite, are to be found in the infinite perfection of God.

All that we seek in created things is but a reflection of the Creator: we desire it only because it is a little like God.

Peter Kreeft says of this:

The reflections of His perfections in the mirror of creation should send us away from the mirror, not into it. And when we run into the mirror, seeking our happiness there, the mirror breaks and our happiness shatters. For every truth is a reflection of his truth, every good is a reflection of his good, every beauty is a reflection of his beauty. The reflections are real, but they are only real reflections. They point back to the Reality they reflect. All truth is God’s truth. All goodness is God’s goodness. All beauty is God’s beauty.

And therefore He is all we need, He is all of what we need, and He is the only One we need. For if we need something else besides God, something in addition to God, then God is not God.2

Saint Augustine says, “Seek what you seek, but it is not where you seek it. You seek Life in the place of death.” God is Life for it is by his will alone in which all that is has been created. All created things are finite; they cannot and will not last forever. If you seek happiness in created things you will not find it for you are looking in the place of death not Life.

St. Thomas wrote that for man the “one thing needful”, the summum bonum or “greatest good”, the purpose and meaning of life is happiness which is often identified as “being a saint”, “beatitude”, and “union with God”. True happiness is not merely “subjective contentment” but “real perfection”. Aquinas says that “union with God” must necessarily begin now, not after death, for if you don’t plant the seed—if you are not “born again of the Spirit”—then life cannot and will not grow in eternity.

“The ultimate reason we must become holy is that that is the only way to become real. For becoming holy is becoming what reality ultimately is, i.e., what God, the ultimate reality and the touchstone for all reality is: true, good, and beautiful; real, loving, and joyful.3

On a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.”4

What are we to make of this? The Pharisees were openly hostile to Jesus and constantly setting traps for him, so why would a leading Pharisee invite him to his home?

In the Mediterranean world of his time, invitations to dine at someone’s home were extended only to people of the same social rank or class. The fact that the leader of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dine with him implied that they saw him as a social equal.

But did they really see Jesus as an equal? The word for observation used by Luke, paratérésis, implies a “hostile observation” from which we might well conclude that the invitation was for less than honorable motives.

Invitations were understood to be reciprocal. To invite someone who could not return the favor was considered cultural suicide, for such guests were clearly people of a lower social status than the host. Likewise, accepting an invitation placed an obligation on the guest to return the favor. It was not uncommon for guests to decline an invitation, especially if they realized that returning the favor was more than they could or cared to handle.

Jesus had no wealth nor did he hold any position of authority or power; he owned no property so he had no visible means of reciprocating so why would the Pharisee have invited him other than to humiliate him or to trap him? One possibility is that they invited Jesus out of envy: the hatred of the good for being good. We often confuse envy with jealousy but they are not the same. “…envy is not to be confused with coveting another’s possessions. Mere jealousy of wealth can be assuaged by acquiring wealth. But envy arises from the humiliation of moral inferiority. It makes you want to denigrate or even destroy the person you feel is better than you.”5 Clearly the Pharisees felt morally inferior to Jesus and his goodness.

The parable that Jesus told was addressed first to those who had been invited and then to the host. There are multiple messages contained within and it is often difficult to grasp the fullness of what Jesus is saying for all that this parable contains.

The guests were social equals and thus knew that they had obligated themselves to reciprocate, so why were they so intent on choosing the places of honor at the table? Vanity and pride are the most likely reasons for their behavior. Each wanted to appear as more important than the rest because they believed they were more important, more distinguished, more prosperous than all the others, even among social equals.

Jesus points out the obvious and suggests that such blatant vanity could very well result in humiliation should the host consider another as more distinguished. It would be far better to choose a lower seat and be asked to move higher than to be embarrassed when asked to move lower for another. Those who exalt themselves, who preen and strut with pride, deluding themselves with their self-importance, will be humiliated when the host sees them for who they really are. They will be humbled. For those who were humbled merely by receiving an invitation and cared not where they were seated, the host will ask them to move up higher and they will be exalted.

To the host Jesus has another message, although perhaps not as obvious as the first. The key here rests in creating a debt and in its repayment. Jesus tells the host that invitations should not place a debt upon those who are invited, a debt for which they are thus obligated to repay. Once they have done so, you have been repaid. But if you invite those who cannot repay you but rather do so solely out of kindness and generosity, then while you will receive no repayment in this life, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

We seek happiness where it cannot be found: in wealth, position, power, honor, fame, pleasure, even health. Earthly happiness is fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling. Vanity, pride, envy, jealousy: all sins which will lead us to the false belief that we are as gods. They are sins that lead to death, not to life, Life which is God. Amen.

Homily # 084 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time — Cycle C
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24
Luke 14:1, 7-14

 


1 Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I,4,2.
2 Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, Ignatius Press, Dec. 16, 2016.
3 Peter Kreeft, Practical Theology.
4 Lk 14:1.
5 Joseph Sobran, Smirking at Virtue, Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society, FGF Books, June 20, 2016.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.