Homily, 28 September 2014
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Ezekiel 18:25-28; Psalms 25:4-5,8-9,10,14; Phillipians 2:1-11; Matthew 21:28-32.St. Vincent de Paul, as you well know, was a priest for the poor. He and his collaborators cared for hundreds of thousands of poor, destitute, men, women and children. What’s not as well known is that Vincent also founded the Congregation of the Mission. The Congregation had two related tasks: they preached the Gospel to the poor and they worked to improve the training and formation of the clergy. It’s estimated that 13,000 men attended Vincent’s ordination retreats.That’s pretty impressive for a man who was usually described as humble.And it makes you wonder, what is humility?When I was younger I often equated humility with “meekness” and “passivity”. Then someone pointed out to me that the word ‘humble’ comes from the Latin word humus, which means soil or ground. “Humility” he said, “meant that you had both feet planted on the ground: that you were well-grounded. Meekness had nothing to do with it.So I looked up the word. Humble means that one is not proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive; one who is humble has a spirit of deference or submission.The spirit of deference then, comes not from meekness, but from a sense of who you are in relation to others.“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory,” wrote St. Paul, “Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”In opening paragraph of the Common Rules for the Congregation of the Mission, Vincent remarked that when Jesus began his ministry on earth he started not so much by teaching but by doing. And so it was with the Congregation of the Mission. They were doers – and what they did, they did in imitation of Christ.In fact, the Congregation of the Mission was born because something needed to be done – and it started from a conversation Vincent had with a young woman. It’s good story …There was a young woman whose family owned an estate outside of Paris. One day, while going to confession she noticed that her parish priest did not give her absolution, though he mumbled a few words between his teeth. Whatever it was he mumbled, she realized, it wasn’t absolution.Subsequently, she found that the priest did the same thing at all her other confessions. Well one day she met a priest from a religious order who was visiting her family’s estate and so she asked him to write down the words of absolution for her.Then, whenever she went to confession, when the time came to receive absolution, she handed the paper to her priest and requested that pronounce what was written. Embarrassed because his ignorance had been discovered, he always did as she had asked.Not long after, in a conversation with Vincent, she told him this story. Then he too began to pay attention to those to whom he confessed, and realized that many of his confessors couldn’t say the words of absolution either.Of course, Vincent immediately realized that so many people, most of them poor, had not received the grace of the sacrament.What was to be done? Who should do it? Realizing that God had shown him a situation that needed to be addressed, he did what humble people do: he went to work. Soon after the Congregation of the Mission was born.Life for the humble can be pretty busy!I do not know Deanna Myer well, but she is this year’s recipient of Spirit of St. Vincent de Paul Award. Reading her story in the bulletin last week, made me realize that she is a humble person too. God showed her a situation and she got busy and made it better.Her stewardship of the annual Used Uniform Sale helped the parish make better use of a simple resource: good used clothing and in the process raised $4,000 for the poor. “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory,” wrote St. Paul, “Rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others.”This afternoon from 2 to 4 is the annual parish Community Service Open House. Please come, in a spirit of humility, and see what needs to be done.