ROME — Christian humility implies placing one’s desire to maintain appearances or selfish interests aside and instead putting the well-being of others first, said Cardinal Robert W. McElroy of San Diego.
Celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s Church, official home of the U.S. Catholic community in Rome, Aug. 28, McElroy said many often have the wrong notion of what is Christian humility, which is not “putting ourselves down, it is not underestimating ourselves” nor “presenting ourselves as less than we are.”
“Humility is two things,” he said. “It is putting aside the pretenses and facades we often erect to try to look better to others than we are and, secondly, challenging and facing the impulse all of us have to place our own interests ahead of those of others.”
McElroy was among the 20 churchmen welcomed into the College of Cardinals during the Aug. 27 consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica.
In his homily, McElroy recalled “Of Gods and Men,” the 2010 French film on the final days of the seven Trappist monks who were kidnapped by terrorists from the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria and beheaded in 1996.
The American cardinal recalled the movie’s depiction of the monks wrestling with the “terrible question” of whether they should leave or stay at the monastery. However, it was when the monks spoke openly and honestly with each other “that all of the pretenses were set aside” and they decided to stay.
“The monks were thinking not of themselves but of those who they had pledged to live and serve with. And sure enough, about a month later, the terrorists came into the monastery and killed most of the monks. They became martyrs for their faith,” he said.
Reflecting on the Sunday Gospel from St. Luke, in which Jesus proclaimed that “every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted,” McElroy said that monks of Tibhirine were only able to arrive at a consensus to stay after humbling themselves by setting aside “pretenses and facades.”
“So it is in our lives,” the cardinal said. “People can get caught up; we can all so easily get caught up in pretenses and facades that hide what’s really going on with us and they become prisons; prisons that imprison us and prisons that shut out other people from understanding our lives.”
Humility, he added, “calls us to put aside those facades and to be open and honest with people; not to build facades, not to pretend that we are better than we are.”
McElroy said that Jesus’ words in the Gospel “challenges” Christians to be humble and “to understand that we are called here in this world to take account of the rights, the lives, the love of others as much as we do ourselves.”
“That is Christian humility,” the cardinal said. “That is the humility that Christ calls us to in the Gospel today, and that is the humility which we should ask God for today and every day.”