Today is the 200th anniversary of the births of two men who significantly changed the course of history: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. Interestingly enough today’s first reading from Genesis relates a section of one of that book’s accounts of creation. The conjunction of these events prompts a reflection on humanness-what it means to be human.
Human, humus, and humility-they all derive from the same root meaning "of the soil" or "of lowly origin". In the first reading we have the image of God taking earth (humus) and fashioning all manner of creatures. But the only worthy mate for the human was the one of common origin.
Inspired by Darwin, scientists have begun to explain the "how" of our beginnings as humans. While we may think of humus (the common soil beneath our feet) as being of lowly origin, in fact its richness demands that (as astrophysicist Carl Sagan would put it) it is made of "star stuff". The complex organic compounds that make up earth in fact come from elements that result from exploding stars. So this stuff that makes up dirt is here only because distant stars have met their demise. The stuff that makes us up, carbon and other elements came from cosmic events. Our bodies have literally been billions of years in the making. Human beings are creation conscious of creation. God has created us in a most wondrous way.
Humanity has not consistently recognized the inherent dignity of us all. Some factions constantly plot to suppress other groups. Is this competition for survival run amuck? Is this the "original sin"? God became incarnate to bring the Good News that we are to love one another. Still, the United States Constitution actually counted slaves as less than a full persons. Abraham Lincoln came along at a point in time when we needed to be reminded that all races deserved equal treatment. His insights help us recognize that the very nature of human beings means that all share a common dignity. His efforts led eventually to the Constitution’s encoding the recognition of the dignity of all people.
Humility is truth. Our physical origins consist of the common stuff of the earth, and that stuff itself has cosmic origins. Possessing the virtue of humility means accepting our strong points and our weaknesses as well. We neither falsely put ourselves down nor falsely exalt ourselves as someone we are not. The Gospel reading is a story of Jesus driving out a demon. Not all our "demons" are outside us. For example, the twelve-step programs tell us we cannot "cure" or drive out many addictions. We live a virtuous life by learning to live with them. Being naked with no shame can mean facing fault or addiction and knowing we are dealing with it. We can modify our behavior but the addiction is still there. That requires a lot of humility.
So today’s readings remind us that God has created us in a most wondrous way, and bestowed upon us a fantastic dignity. Let us walk humbly with God.
Brother John Monzyk, C.P. is a physicist and a member of the Passionist community in Louisville, Kentucky.