Yesterday, as the end of the Scarpa Conference at Villanova, I led a short spiritual exercise for the conference speakers. I picked humility as the theme of the reflection I offered, inspired by what I knew would be the first reading for today’s Mass a passage from 1 Peter, which began, “Beloved, clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for God opposes the proud but bestows favor on the humble.” I talked about what it means to be humble and shared several reasons I thought humility was a particularly important virtue in today’s world. After my talk, I invited the participants into a period of silent reflection, giving them several short passages and some questions to guide them.
During our sharing after the silent reflection period, one of the participants observed that it could be challenging to be humble given our particular profession, which often requires us to appear “impressive.” (For example, a law school dean is often out meeting donors and must impress them.)
I thought about that comment again this morning as I was praying with the two Mass readings. Interestingly, the first reading from 1 Peter, which directly addresses humility, is paired with Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples before his ascension to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”
Surely proclaiming the Gospel effectively required the disciples to be impressive. But the disciples were also called by Jesus to be humble, which suggests that it is possible to be impressive while still being humble. And, in fact, far from being opposed to each other, humility and effective proclamation of the Gospel go hand in hand.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines humility as
the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer. Voluntary humility can be described as “poverty of spirit.”
All that is required to remain humble while impressing others is remembering the source of all we are able to accomplish. If we can remember that all we are and all we have is gift from God, then we can do and say things that impress people without losing humility. And, in the case of proclaiming the Gospel, if anything, humility – keeping the focus on God as the “author of all good” – allows us to be a more effective evangelizers.