Why Are We Here?

(Homily for Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday - Year C)

Message: Why are we here? One word: Humility. We are here for humility in Christ.

This week we begin a new school year. It's a good moment to ask a basic question: Why are we here? Or to put it another way, What does God want to accomplish by creating and sustaining the universe?

We don't know the whole answer, but we do know a part: That God created the universe to make souls. The poet, John Keats, called this world a "vale of soul making."* The world exists to make souls.

Scientists talk about the "anthropic principle": The cosmos seems fine-tuned to produce a planet like ours that can sustain creatures like us - capable of wondering about the world we came from.

The Bible says God created human beings as his culminating work, that he made us in his image. He gave us a stewardship, a responsibility for his creation, and the ability to know him and freely give ourselves back to him.

Our education system fits into that purpose. Even it doesn't explicitly teach religion, schools know that they exist not only pass on knowledge but to form character: things like honesty, reliability and respect. We want our schools - whether public, Catholic or home - to form people who tell the truth, people we can count on to keep their word, people who respect themselves and others. That's character - the inner core of the human person, the soul. You don't get character by information but by formation: hard work, stumbling, getting back up, making a new beginning.

The Bible has a word for character building. We see it in today's readings - humility. It's not a popular word because it can sound like grovelling, a lack of self-esteem. But that's not it. Sirach says, "My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more that a giver of gifts."

Gifts are nice. I have my birthday this week and even though I've got about everything I need personally, I can still delight in a gift. But better than a gift is humility. Humility, in fact, is the best gift. The Shakers knew that. One of their songs says, "Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be."

Humility brings us into the right relationship with each other. We see that in today's Gospel. Jesus tells us to seek the lowest place. Do that and you will always have a job. There will always be a dishwasher to unload, a floor to sweep, a bedpan to empty.

Taking the lowest place doesn't mean burying your talents. St. Martin de Porres is shown with a broom because he deliberately sought the humblest job. At the same time, he did not hide his medical skills. He wound up managing the infirmary where he cared for ill Dominican brothers and for people of Lima. Take the lowest place and you will know (with prayer) when to put your talents at the service of others.

Humility, then, brings us "where we ought to be." Humility is character because it means knowing one's real self. That's not an easy thing to accomplish. We quickly fall into a false self-image - especially today with things like Facebook. Don't get me wrong. I like Facebook. It's a good tool and I invite all of you to become my Facebook friends. But I know I can start to think that the Facebook image I project is the "real me." It's not. It can't be.

Facebook is a tool and like every tool it can be used to build or to destroy. A hammer can make a home , but it can also become a murder weapon. How a person uses Facebook or any other tool depends on character. Maybe we should put this Bible verse on our computers: "Conduct your affairs with humility," your emails, your Facebook, your texting. Conduct them with humility.

Now, I know a lot of you prefer the old technology - picking up your phone or even meeting face-to-face. The truth is that even though it takes more time, it works better. The reason is simple: voice-to-voice or face-to-face requires humility. "Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more that a giver of gifts."

Let's bring this back to the original question: Why are we here? What does God want to accomplish by creating the world? The answer: to make souls, beings capable of knowing and loving him. Our purpose is not to amass information, but to form character, to find our right relationship with each other and with God. In Christ, always in Christ. Why are we here? One word: Humility. We are here for humility in Christ. Amen.


*C.S. Lewis uses Keat's quote in his book, Problem of Pain. Here is the context:

Indignation at others' sufferings, though a generous passion, needs to be well managed lest it steal away patience and humanity from those who suffer and plant anger and cynicism in their stead. But I am not convinced that suffering, if spared such officious vicarious indignation, has any natural tendency to produce such evils. I did not find the front-line trenches or the C.C.S. more full than any other place of hatred, selfishness, rebellion, and dishonesty. I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better not worse with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects. I see in loved and revered historical figures, such as Johnson and Cowper, trait's which might scarcely have been tolerable if the men had been happier. If the world is indeed a 'vale of soul making' it seems on the whole to be doing it's work. Of poverty - the affliction which actually or potentially includes all other afflictions - I would not dare to speak as from myself; and those who reject Christianity will not be moved by Christ's statement that poverty is blessed. But here a rather remarkable fact comes to my aid. Those who would most scornfully repudiate Christianity as a mere 'opiate of the people' have a contempt for the rich, that is, for all mankind except the poor. They regard the poor as the only people worth preserving from 'liquidation', and place in them the only hope of the human race. But this is not compatible with a belief that the effects of poverty on those who suffer it are wholly evil; it even implies that they are good. The Marxist thus finds himself in real agreement with the Christian in those two beliefs which Christianity paradoxically demands - that poverty is blessed and yet ought to be removed.

Versión Castellana

From Archives (22nd Sunday, Year C):

2016: Youth Challenge Week 3: How to Enter Narrow Gate
2013: Why Are We Here?
2010: The Key to the Narrow Gate
2007: The Beauty of Humility
2004: Arrogance and Vainglory
2001: The Guest List
1998: Saved by Grace Alone

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