October 31st, 2022 – Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time – Lk 14:12-14
In today’s first reading, from the letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul begs his listeners to work for unity amongst themselves. He points out three vices that threaten this unity: selfishness, vainglory, and self-centeredness, in other words, all different manifestations of pride. Saint Paul also provides two solutions to these vices, one internal, to “humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,” or, in other translations, “in humility, let each esteem others [as] better than themselves,” and one external that naturally flows from this, namely, “to look out for the interests of others.”
The internal solution is challenging: can we really regard all others as better than ourselves? In fact, Aquinas himself asked this question, and dedicates an entire article to the topic (II-II, q. 161, a. 3). He says that we need to distinguish two things in man: what belongs to man, and what belongs to God. Whatever pertains to defects, shortcomings, or sins, is man’s: but whatever pertains to man’s welfare and perfection is God’s. Thus, he concludes, “man, in respect of that which is his own, ought to subject himself to every neighbor, in respect of that which the latter has of God’s.” In other words, when we look at ourselves, we see both bad things and good things. The bad things that we see are our sins and failings, and that comes from us and our decisions; on the other hand, whatever we have that is good comes from God. However, when I look at my neighbors, especially in religious life, and see their actions, I can’t know their motives or intentions, and so I almost always have the option to save their intention and think that what I perceive as failings might not actually be such. Likewise, my neighbors are endowed with gifts and graces from God, and so I can “think my neighbor has some good that I lack, or that I have some evil or sin that he doesn’t,” and thus rightfully regard others as better than me.
This humble subjection to others is the mark of many great religious saints. For instance, the great missionary St. Francis Xavier would write St. Ignatius on his knees, and signed one of his greatest letters to his brothers, “the useless servant of all my brethren of the Society of the Name of Jesus,” and this a man who baptized 700,000 people himself. Likewise, while not a canonized saint, Cornelio Fabro’s last will and testament contains this remark: “I can affirm that I have always thought that [my brothers in religion] all were better than I, and that everything they did, especially my superiors, they did for my good.”
Today, we can meditate on how we live out humility in our religious lives. Do we follow Saint Paul’s advice, “in humility, esteeming others [as] better than themselves,” and therefore “looking out for the interests of others”? Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, model of humility, for the grace to be truly humble and thus persevere in unity.