In the foreground, the Pskov River; in the center, The Flat Tower, to the left, the tower of the Pskov Kremlin wall, and in the distance he towers of the Pskov Kremlin.  On the right, The Great River.  Photo by David Owen


23 October 2016


It is not often that the Church, that is, Our Lord, starts off the Gospel of the Mass with  a direct challenge.

The Mass for today starts off with a parable that gives us the basic theme for today’s Mass.  It is addressed to those who are convinced of their own goodness and who look down on their neighbor.

The parable challenges us to think about our own humility.

It helps one to know that the English word, humility, comes to us from the Latin word, humilitas, which comes from the root word humus, or earth.

In other words, humility is the measure of how much we are ‘down to earth’ with ‘our feet on the ground’ not having an exalted opinion of ourselves that causes us to ‘look down’ on others.

The virtue of humility may be defined as a quality by which a person considering his own defects has a modest opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and others for God’s sake.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines humility as the virtue that consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, that is, ‘keeping one’s feet on the ground’ and not having one’s nose ‘stuck up in the air.’

Because I spent ten years of my life as a Benedictine monk before I became a bishop and learned the basics of humility in the spiritual life during that time, I would like to share with you the way prescribed by Saint Benedict for the monk to grow in humility.  I have adapted the words of Saint  Benedict to fit the life of everyone, not just monks, and I call it THE PROGRAM OF TWELVE STEPS TO  HUMILITY.

When you hear the phrase “Twelve Step Program” these day you automatically think of Alcoholics Anonymous and their wonderful program for fighting addiction to alcohol.

Saint Benedict’s guide for humility could well be described, as I have just done, as a  Twelve Step Program to give up the sin of pride because the sin of pride is addictive. It is so easy to become a proud person before God and men if one does not from time to time take stock of where we are,  as we are doing on this Sunday


The first step in humility is to always have a healthy spiritual fear of offending God in one’s mind.  As we walk over ground covered with broken glass and other dangerous objects, we are consciously and unconsciously carefully choosing where we walk.  Similarly as we walk through each day we encounter situations that a healthy fear of offending God will help to keep us from sinning against God.


The second step in humility is to willingly accept the precepts, the commandments of the Lord and to seek to live them in one’s daily life.  Some people seem to live solely by whim, acting with respect to what they desire at the moment.  For the Christian humility consists in joyfully following the path laid out in the Gospel by Christ.


The Third step in humility is to imitate the Lord by willingly accepting the lawful authority others have over us, whether it be, for example,  parents, a spouse, the Church, civil authorities, teachers, law enforcement, etc.  Obedience leads to the tranquility of order.  Our Lord “became obedient even to his death” so that we could have eternal life.


The Fourth step in humility is to control the way we react to unpleasant things that are required of us by lawful authority, such as our parents.  We should accept their decisions with patience and even temper, not sulking or worse yet, shirking our duty.


The Fifth step in humility is to strive to be open with the ones we love, such as parents, spouses, siblings, etc.  Not hiding one’s disagreement or anger from them, but seeking peacefully to make one’s true feelings known to the other.


The Sixth step in humility is to accept with genuine simplicity the hard situations and circumstances life at times subjects us to without cultivating bitterness and such deep seated resentment that our relationship with others is poisoned.


The Seventh step in humility is to resist the temptation to inflate one’s importance by boasting or ‘putting on airs’ in order to impress others.


The Eighth step in humility is when one avoids ‘rocking the boat’ by causing crises in the lives of ones family, circle of friends, fellow workers, or others.  In other words, disturb the peace!  Peace is the tranquillity of order.


The Ninth step in humility is when one keeps strict control of ones speech.  When I was a child, children used to say:  “Sticks and stones my break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  That was not true then and it is not true now.
When I was in elementary school in Texas City, Texas I was a skinney, sun-browned little boy and my classmates called me Mahatma Ghandi, a man in India who was very much in the news at that time. Calling me that was a racial slur and it hurt.  Recalling it still hurts.
You can call a person bad name and the wound will never heal. Physical wounds heal in time, but insults can hurt for a lifetime.
Similarly, do not hurt others by gossiping !!!


The Tenth step in humility is to avoid silliness.  Humor is good.  Life without humor would be unbearable.  I have a ‘far out’ sense of humor and I must be one my guard that I do not come across in my conversation as silly.  A silly person is often  just a proud person who seeks attention.


The Eleventh step in humility is when a person consistently thinks before he speaks.  Only a fool gives expression to every thought that crosses his mind.  I sure  you have met people who babble on and on and on.  After a while you come to recognize that they are really not a thoughtful person; they are a thoughtless person.


The Twelfth and final step in humility is to make the prayer of the tax collector in today’s gospel the prayer that comes most often to your mind when you start to pray:  “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
O God, be merciful to me a sinner!
O God, be merciful to me a sinner!

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. Cecilia says:

    Thank you so much for this..now to ask God for the grace to put it into practice –