According to Dr. Jean Twenge, “In the 1950s, when teenagers were asked if they were a ‘very important person,’ less than ten percent said they were. Fifty years later, more than 80 percent said they were”. I think this applies to most people, not just teenagers, do you? If we asked people, “Do you think you’re above average?” most would reply, ‘Yes.’ But, that’s impossible. By definition, most people have to be average. Average is just what most people are, even if it’s good! So, most people should consider themselves average—that’s logical.
It says in today’s Gospel, “When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable” (Lk 14:7). Commenting on this passage, St. Augustine said, “There are humble religious and there are proud religious” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Luke, 236). So, let’s focus on the temptation to be proud spiritually. Most Catholics have to be, by definition, average. However, I think most of us feel we’re above average.
One time, a woman said to me dismissively, “I don’t need Faith Studies, that’s for newbies.” And, do you know that song, Breathe on Me, Breath of God? A man said about it, “That’s Disney,” because he thought it was childish.
Jesus says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host” (Lk 14:8). Most of us know that ‘wedding banquet’ is a metaphor for heaven. As we’ve said before, there are different degrees of happiness and honour in heaven. Salvation is freely given and cannot be earned, but the glory we receive in heaven is merited in cooperation with the grace of Jesus.
So, Jesus is not saying that we’re all at the same spiritual level. Some people are beginners, some are proficient, some are advanced. Yet the proficient and advanced don’t tell or insinuate to others that they’re more advanced. They definitely don’t feel proud that they go to Mass every Sunday—that’s the minimum.
“and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place” (Lk 14:9). If we’re proud about being more advanced, God will humble us. When that man said that song was ‘Disney,’ I should have replied ‘Your spiritual life is Disney.’ Just kidding. That would be wrong. Nevertheless, in one mocking comment, he revealed he’s spiritually immature. And the woman who said Faith Studies is for newbies showed she doesn’t have a heart for newbies.
One of the characteristics of the spiritually advanced is that they have a heart for those who are new to the journey. They say, “Wow! How can I help others grow? That’s great that people are taking these programs.” All the saints were deeply concerned about the spiritual growth of others. And though some of our best apostles here are introverted, their love for Christ and others drives them beyond their natural shyness.
“But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Lk 14:10-11). When Jesus came to earth, He chose the lowest place by taking the form of a servant. At the Last Supper, He said, “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (Jn 13:13-14). This is why Jesus was exalted: He did the Father’s will which meant sanctifying others. Jesus is actually telling us to choose a lower place, to choose to serve more.
So, here are two hopes of mine as the priest. First, I hope we all take care of other people spiritually. Some of us want deeper theological programs like theology of the body, apologetics, pro-life training, and I want to offer them. But we need qualified people to lead them. Consequently, from those who take these advanced programs, I hope we could select qualified people to teach others in the foundational ministries like Faith Studies, because if you desire to receive more, you should give more.
Second, let’s not assume that we’re so spiritually advanced that we don’t need to review the fundamentals. St. Dominic didn’t carry with him theological treatises but the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and St. Paul’s letters.
Yes, Alpha is for those of us who are beginning the spiritual journey. It’s also for those who want spiritual renewal. And it’s for those of us who want to build a strong foundation. Whenever I see an Alpha video, I always learn something new or am reminded of something I had forgotten.
Don’t become complacent in your spiritual progress. Keep on growing. We’re offering some beautiful courses in a few weeks, so choose one that will help you grow, because there’s always more to learn and practice.
Someone once asked Pope Benedict XVI, “Are you a man of conscience?” He said, “I try to be. I’m not bold enough to claim that I am” (Joseph Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth, 67). That’s a good answer.
Are we above average Catholics? We try to be, which is why we serve other people spiritually. Our Lord Jesus was perfectly exalted because He perfectly humbled Himself.