Saturday, January 28, 2012

Arrogance and humility...

Many ultra-pious accuse those who question or disobey church hierarchical leaders as being “arrogant” or lacking “humility.”  For example, I have been accused of both due to asking questions in this blog.  So, let’s reflect upon these two concepts. 

The definition of “arrogant” is, “Having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities”, “Having or displaying a sense of overbearing self-worth or self-importance”, or ,” Marked by or arising from a feeling or assumption of one's superiority toward others.”

Which is more arrogant: asking questions to better understand or assuming one already knows?  Which is more arrogant: believing the organization to which one belongs is imperfect or insisting that the organization to which one belongs is perfect?  Which is more arrogant: believing you are equal to others or insisting that you are hierarchically above others? 

Our Lord made an interesting directive to the early apostles regarding false airs, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt.  But it shall not be so among you (Mark 10:42-43 and MT 20:25-26).”  Is it “so” or “not so” amongst church leaders today?     

“Humility” is, “A lack of false pride, a state of being humble.”  And the word “humble” means, “Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful”, or, “Showing deferential or submissive respect”, or, “Low in rank, quality, or station; unpretentious or lowly.”  Is it possible for hierarchy to be humble when they assert that they are superior?  Can they be of low rank or station at the same time they insist that they are above all laity? 

Our Lord gave example and instructions about humility to the Twelve at the Last Supper when he took the form of the lowliest slave to wash their feet,

So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am.  If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:12-16).

Do today’s church leaders realize what Jesus did in this action?  Do they imitate Jesus’ humble service?  Somehow this explicit instruction seems to have morphed into most clergy “serving” the people at appointed times and in manners of the clergy’s choosing.  Wouldn’t more genuine humble service be to walk amongst the lowly as one of the lowly?  Then, from the perspective of the lowly and based upon the criteria of the lowly, they would understand what is helpful – and they would do it without fanfare and without feeling like a martyr.

One statement in this passage from the Gospel of John particularly strikes me.  Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him (John 13:16).” 

Church leaders state that they know the mind of Jesus especially when it comes to ordaining women, though Jesus never explicitly stated anything about “ordination”, or gender of apostles.  Indeed, Jesus sent (the definition of “apostle”) Mary Magdalene to the Twelve with the most important news in Christian history, the good news of his resurrection.  Yet church leaders don’t permit women to proclaim this very gospel (good news) at Mass. 

Jesus did appoint a female apostle and church leaders actually recognize Mary Magdalene as some non-descript, junior-grade apostle calling her in dogma, “apostle to the apostles”.  Yet, church leaders are so confident about the words they put in Jesus’ mouth regarding barring women priests (that he never said) and the intentions they declared in his head (that he never expressed), that they say they “lack authority” to remove their words and thoughts from Jesus’ mouth and mind.  They say they have infallibly determined the mind of Jesus.  Thus, it seems to many people that these church leaders have declared themselves greater than their master and the one who sent them. 

Is it arrogant or humble to put your words and thoughts in Jesus’ mouth and mind and then refuse to consider that you might be mistaken?  Is it arrogant or humble to belittle others who seek God by asking sincere questions because they acknowledge God is beyond humans’ full comprehension?  Is it arrogant or humble to insist “we are right” rather than consider, “maybe we are wrong?”  


  1. I enjoyed this analysis very much. Your points are well taken, and succinct, as well. Blessings, Chaplain Edward Huff, BCC.

  2. Well defined. We here have seen an excellent example of the Bishop being so insulated in his palace that he could not go 5 mile to help the victims of abuse or save an athentic catholic group

  3. Today I received an anonymous comment for moderation that will not be published because it did not follow this blog's rules for comments. As a reminder, there are two rules for commenting in this blog: 1) The commenter should identify himself or herself and 2) the comment needs to be expressed in a respectful way. Sometimes I will publish comments that violate these rules but usually not. Thus, if the anonymous contributor from this morning would like his/her comment considered for publication, he/she needs to resubmit with their identity attached to their comment.