Feast of St. James the Apostle
I grew up in the city, and long before recycling and composting were popular, my Dad had a “humus pile” in our back yard. Every time we cut the grass, the clippings went on top of the pile. When we raked leaves they, too, would cover that mound. So did potato peelings, coffee grounds, and eggshells. And we would keep turning the dirt with the refuse. Dad had made a sifting screen out of chicken wire and boards; every so often we would sift the humus pile — producing the richest, blackest soil you can imagine! Nature teaches us that fertility comes from rubbish, life comes from death.
The word “humus” in Latin means earth or ground. The English word, humility, comes from this origin. The fruitfulness of the earth depends on the decomposition of organic matter. Today’s readings remind us that the only abundance or prosperity that is real must come from the lowly garbage! James and John send their mother (how pathetic!) to secure a top position in Jesus’ cabinet, and Jesus reminds them of the need to embrace the lowly, the humble… to drink the cup that he has drunk. To be one with Jesus means not sitting in glory and honor, but powerlessness and vulnerability. This is the fragile, earthen vessel of which St. Paul speaks. Dr. Albert Schweitzer, famous philosopher, theologian, physician, and missionary… once said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be. I do know that the only ones among you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.”
I suppose it’s easy to find the arrogance and smugness of politicians or entertainers and others. Today I need to look at my own egotism, my own desire for power-prestige-privilege, asking that I might drink Jesus’ cup of humility, and be healed and grounded.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.