‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” -Luke 17:10
The passage above, taken from Tuesday’s Gospel, describes the humble response Christ tells us to have in fulfilling our responsibilities. Even when God calls us to do extraordinary things, we should seek no praise for them. This kind of humility is exemplified by Pope Francis, whose papacy has had a deep humility as one of its defining characteristics. When reflecting on the moment of his election as the Successor to Saint Peter, Pope Francis said, “This is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze … but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” Most of us will never be given such a place of honor, but it is in the small every day experiences that we can show our humility and be an instrument of Gods graces.
One example of someone showing humility comes from my brother, a midshipmen (student) at the U.S. Naval Academy. I feel that any person who offers up even a portion of their life to serve in the military and help make our freedoms possible should be respected and thanked. One way in which airline companies show their appreciation for the services provided by the military is to allow uniformed members of the military to board planes early. Though getting on an airplane a few minutes early may seem like something trivial, many of us go out of our way to try to get a good place while boarding a plane so that we may get a better seat or more overhead storage space.
The U.S. Naval Academy requires all of its midshipmen to travel in uniform. Once while traveling home with my brother, the crew announced that any uniformed members of the military could board early. I looked at my brother, expecting him to board, but he didn’t. The women making the announcements had noticed him in the terminal and made the announcement again, but he still just sat there. As the women moved on, I asked my brother why he didn’t board when he had the opportunity to. He said something to the effect of not having earned any special treatment. Regardless of his service record, I don’t think my brother would take up the airline’s offer. My brother could have gotten a great seat, but he quietly turned down the offer.
Service in the military for my brother is a duty. I think it’s an extraordinary responsibility worthy of many thanks. That is what makes the humility shown by so many of the members of the military such a powerful witness to me. If men and women who are willing to risk their lives can demonstrate such humility, how much more could I demonstrate in my own daily tasks? Let us pray for members of the military and thank them in whatever way we can for their service, and take to heart the example that those like my brother and others in our lives give us in doing the ordinary things God has called them to do with humility.
Patrick Burke is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.