When I was a seminarian preparing for ordination to the Priesthood, I thought that it might be a good idea to pray for humility. It seemed, at the time, to be a wise aspiration.
Gradually, things were brought to my attention concerning the topic of humility—now on a somewhat regular basis. I heard things said to me like: Be careful of what you pray for, you might get it and The quickest way to humility is through humiliation.
On the day of the senior class graduation from the college seminary, there was a well-planned Baccalaureate Mass. I happened to be the sacristan of the seminary chapel at the time. I would be the person leading the reader to his appropriate place at the pulpit during the proclamation of the readings from Sacred Scripture. The chapel was packed. Family and friends, the entire faculty and various dignitaries were present for this momentous occasion. The homily was thoroughly prepared by the priest assigned to preach, based primarily on the first reading, which I later found out had been chosen from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah.
I led the reader to the pulpit after making the appropriate bows. As we looked at the Lectionary and the reading set open in front of us, he whispers to me, “This isn’t the right reading.” In a state of panic I said quickly and without much thought: “Well . . . read it anyway.” I instructed him to read the incorrect reading in front of everyone. It was from the Acts of the Apostles. It had multiple difficult names to pronounce. The homily, I came to find out, had been based almost entirely on the reading from the Prophet Jeremiah. I was humiliated. I guess I began to learn humility.
Fast forward to when I initially became a principal of a diocesan high school. It was the night of the open house. I was hurrying around the buildings trying to make sure the bathrooms looked clean and presentable for any guests. I began to clean things up. Not really a pleasant job for anyone, I thought. Then I recalled the brilliant words of advice that I had given to my students at various times: Stay in school. Get your degrees so that you don’t wind up cleaning bathrooms for a living. Who was it now cleaning bathrooms? Humility? Hmm . . .
At other times humility kicks in as well. One Sunday the deacon had preached during the Mass that I offered. We went to the back of church to greet the people as they exited. “Great homily Father!” One particular gentleman had said that right to my face with all seriousness. I hadn’t preached at that Mass. He hadn’t a clue. Great homily . . . Oh well! Humility . . .
Be sure to heed the reminder from today’s Gospel: For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (Lk. 14:11)
May I also add my own words of caution when praying for something (like humility): Be very careful; you might actually get what you pray for!
Fr. Ed Namiotka