The Hapsburg family from Vienna was one of the most powerful families of their time in Europe. They reigned as the rulers of Austria Hungry and often as the Holy Roman Emperor from the middle of the 1400’s to the end of the 1800’s. While they did many remarkable things as rulers, today they are perhaps most remembered for their funerals. When a member of the royal family passed away mourners were hired to lead the funeral procession to the imperial crypt located underneath a Capuchin monastery in Vienna. When the mourners arrived at the door of the Church they would knock at the door and ask to be let in. The priest inside would ask who was there and the mourners would respond giving the deceased’s full name and all of his formal titles, to which the priest would respond, I don’t know you. The mourners would knock a second time and when asked a second time who it was they would simply give the royals name to which the priest would again respond that he did not know who it was. The mourners would then knock a third time and when asked the third time who it was they would respond saying a poor and mortal sinner. The priest would then respond come in and the funeral would begin.
If you are anything like me we find this funeral rite strange, but admire the final act of humility by one of the world’s most powerful person. Perhaps we find this ritual odd because we live in a culture were authentic humility is rare, a culture that often promotes narcissism and self-idolatry rather than love, care and concern for others. While this funeral celebration by the Hapsburg dynasty is on one level strange on another level it is deeply moving, because when we encounter true humility in a leader it moves us deeply not only because we are used to experiencing prideful leaders, but more importantly because deep down we know that humility is the path to greatness.
Sadly humility is rarely held out to be virtuous anymore and those who are humble are seen as weak. I think humility seems to have received a bad connotation because we don’t really know what humility is. So often when we think of humility we think of someone who is timid or inferior to others, yet this is the exact opposite of what it means to be humble. This false notion of humility is actually the sin of pride, because it shows that we are thinking too much about ourselves.
The true model of humility is Jesus on the cross, where He emptied Himself for us. As Christians we claim to follow after Christ, and so to truly live out our Christian faith, we have to imitate the humility of Jesus on the cross, who freely took the lowest place, the place of a criminal deserving death, so that you and I could be raised to a place of honor in the heavenly banquet. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us that true humility consists in offering our lives in service to God and our neighbor.
My friends, true humility, which is the foundation of the Christian life, requires truth. It requires us to stand before the mirror of reality where we can honestly recognize our own unique gifts and talents, recognizing that they are given to us by God who expects that we use them in service to His people. At its core, humility implies that we know who we are. To be humble is to recognize that we are all children of God.
Regardless of who we are, what we do for a living or how much success we have had, authentic humility recognizes that ultimately any success we have had has only come because we have cooperated with the grace God has given us to be successful. In other words humility is the recognition that we are feeble, fallible human beings, yet at the same time we are gifted, unique and indispensable and regardless of our shortcomings we are loved by a God who loves us unconditionally with a love that we can never be worthy of.
The world often tells us that nice guys finish last, but Jesus reminds us that the last will be first. A Christian knows that “true greatness is in loving God and in humility.” Those who are truly humble get ahead because they are secure in themselves. They know that they are vulnerable and ultimately not in control because God, who is all powerful is the one who is in control. They know that the Creator came down from heaven to become man and fix what we cannot fix. The understanding of their own identity gives the humble person the ability of be fearless because he is not afraid to make mistakes, since he knows he is not God and will make mistakes, so he seeks forgiveness and move on. A truly humble person is in touch with reality. Since he knows he has nothing to prove, and has no excuse to flaunt his strengths, he is always under control because he uses the goodness in him to build others up rather than to tear down.
We live in a world where there is no longer anything psychologically wrong with being obsessed with oneself. Yet we as Christians know that “without humility we cannot be pleasing to God.” In today’s Gospel Jesus warns of falling into the trap of pride. He calls us to break free from ourselves and realize that God is the source of all our goodness. He created us in His image proclaiming us to be “good.” And so if we truly want to live out the that greatness we need the humility He calls us to humility which must be rooted to in a spirit of honesty so that we can embrace our greatness rooted in Christ, put Him at the center of lives and place our trust in Him and not in ourselves.
 Maria Faustina Kowalskapg, Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge: Marian Press. (2011) pg. 189.
 Maria Faustina Kowalskapg, Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Stockbridge: Marian Press. (2011) pg. 129.