Sunday, September 1, 2013

Humble, Yes: Delusional, No

I'm supposed to be humble, which isn't the same as being delusional. Not according to the Catholic Church, anyway.

Avoiding Inordinate Ambition or Pride

"HUMILITY: 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 (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as 'poverty of spirit' (2546)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)
An important word there is "inordinate ambition." We're not supposed to have no ambition at all, or go out of our way to become poor. Some Saints were poor: but some, like Louis IX of France and Sir Thomas More, were anything but. It isn't being poor, or rich, that makes Saints. (July 28, 2013)

It's their heroic virtue, living in fidelity to God's grace, that makes Saints special. (Catechism, 826)

Working With What I've Got

There's a tendency in my native culture to see "humility" as a sort of make-believe: denying that our strengths are real. That's crazy.

If I tried being that sort of "humble," I'd pretend that I can't write, or apologize profusely for being such a lousy writer. That seems like a waste of time, and would probably be annoying.

I've got something close to the gift called "the expression of knowledge" in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10. That isn't bragging. The package I was born with includes an intense interest in language, with a knack for reading and writing.

I didn't have anything to do with that, any more than I'm responsible for the color of my eyes. My contribution to the mix was deciding, as a child, that I wanted to write: and following through on that decision by working at developing my skills.

Beggars, Choosers, and Me

As far as I can tell, being humble is acknowledging that God is large and in charge. God doesn't owe me anything.

As St. Augustine said, "Man is a beggar before God."

Applying the beggars can't be choosers principle, I think accepting what I get from God also makes sense. For whatever reason, I was born a cripple, with freakishly enhanced language abilities. On the whole, I'm content with what I have: and hope that I'm making good use of these gifts.

Beggars can't be choosers, but we can ask for good things. What I get is up to God, and that's okay with me. What's important is having "a humble and contrite heart." (Catechism, 2559)

"Poor in Spirit," Not "Despondent"

Matthew's Beatitudes start with the familiar "poor in spirit" promise.
"3 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, 4 for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:3)
So, what does "poor in spirit" mean?

I've heard "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" sung as if it's a dirge. Some folks seem to think Matthew 5:3 says "blessed are the despondent...." Others seem convinced that poverty, by itself, is a virtue; that the physical world is evil; and that's another topic. Topics. (June 3, 2012; May 7, 2012)

If being poor in the financial sense is needed for virtue, folks like St. Louis and St. Thomas More are hard to explain.

I think being "poor in spirit" has more to do with attitude than how much someone has in the bank.

Detachment from Riches

Having few worldly resources may give us more opportunities for realizing that we're dependent on God, but anyone can choose that sort of awareness. The trick isn't being poor: it's being detached from wealth.
"Jesus enjoins his disciples to prefer him to everything and everyone, and bids them 'renounce all that [they have]' for his sake and that of the Gospel.335 Shortly before his passion he gave them the example of the poor widow of Jerusalem who, out of her poverty, gave all that she had to live on.336 The precept of detachment from riches is obligatory for entrance into the Kingdom of heaven."

" 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'337 The Beatitudes reveal an order of happiness and grace, of beauty and peace. Jesus celebrates the joy of the poor, to whom the Kingdom already belongs:338
"The Word speaks of voluntary humility as 'poverty in spirit'; the Apostle gives an example of God's poverty when he says: 'For your sakes he became poor.'339"
(Catechism, 2544, 2546 [emphasis mine])
The summary of that section says it pretty well:
"Detachment from riches is necessary for entering the Kingdom of heaven. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' "
(Catechism, 2556)
Apparently being poor is okay, being rich is okay: but being attached to wealth is a bad idea. So, I think, is flaunting wealth. That seems to be one of the points of this morning's first reading:
"2 My son, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts.

"Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

"What is too sublime for you, seek not, into things beyond your strength search not.

"The mind of a sage appreciates proverbs, and an attentive ear is the wise man's joy.

"4 Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins."
(Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29)

(From Zentralbibliothek Z├╝rich, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)
" 'Alle Weissheit ist bey Gott dem Herrn...' ("All wisdom comes from the LORD....")
(Sirach, first chapter, German translation), anonymous artist 1654.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.