In today’s readings we seem to be hearing quite a bit about humility. And to live the virtue of humility means to see ourselves through God’s eyes. To see ourselves the way God sees us, both the good and the bad. Humility is not a false self-deprecation, where you beat yourself up verbally only so others can say otherwise. Humility never denies the truth. If you’ve been gifted in some way say so, acknowledging at the same time the gift comes from God.
To belittle the gifts God has given us would actually be a subtle form of pride. St Benedict used to say that if a monk had a wonderful singing voice and downplayed his own ability; by saying he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. That would be displeasing to God. So we recognize the good, and thank God for it. Saying instead, yes God has blessed me with a good voice. Give God the credit.
Now, as humble people in the making, we also recognize what is evil in us, the pride, the vanity, the laziness, the lust, and the selfishness that we give in to. All these things should bring us to our knees before God asking for his mercy. When St Theresa of Avila asked Jesus what true humility meant, He said to her: “To know what you can do, and what I can do.”
In our first reading from the Book of Sirach, we are told: “Conduct your affairs with humility… Humble yourself the more, the greater you are and you will find favor with God.” And Jesus adds to it in the gospel saying “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Our Lord is calling us to see ourselves as God sees us: sinners infinitely loved by God, and in desperate need of his mercy. To know this is true humility.
Scott Hahn, a famous Catholic convert, speaker, author, and professor once wrote about humility and he used the example of a down and out priest. One of Dr. Hahn’s priest friends visited Rome, and on the steps of one of the churches he saw a beggar with a familiar face. With a thrill of horror, he realized that it was one of his classmates from seminary, and he rushed over to him. “Didn’t we go to the seminary together,” he asked. “Yes,” the beggar affirmed. “You’re a priest?” “Not anymore,” the beggar replied, “I fell off the deep end.”
A short time later Scott Hahn’s friend had an audience with Pope St. John Paul II. He told him the entire story, and asked him to pray for his friend. John Paul II assured him that he would, and then whispered something to an aide. Later that day the priest received a phone call inviting him to come with the ex-priest to have dinner with the Pope. He rushed off to the church where he had seen him, and by God’s grace, he was still there on the steps. Upon hearing about the invitation, he said, “I’m a mess. I haven’t showered in a long time, and my clothes are filthy.” But his friend took him back to his hotel room and helped him get cleaned up, and then they went to dinner with the Holy Father.
At the end of a very enjoyable dinner, the Holy Father asked to be alone with the ex-priest. After a long while, the down and out priest emerged with tears in his eyes. “What happened in there?” his friend asked? “The Pope asked me to hear his confession,” choked the beggar. After regaining composure, the man continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar. I am not a priest.’” “The Pope looked at me and said, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I too come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’ I told him I was not in good standing with the Church, and he assured me that as the Bishop of Rome he could reinstate me right then and there.”
After he heard the Holy Father’s confession, the beggar-priest asked the Pope to hear his, and then he received an assignment to minister to the beggars on the steps of the very church from which he just came.
Through the humility of Pope St. John Paul II, who humbly saw himself as God saw him; this man received a new lease on life.
How do we grow in humility, how do we grow in this ability to see ourselves as God sees us? St Catherine of Sienna, a doctor of the Church, gives us advice on how to do that and it’s this: persevere in prayer, keep praying, even if it’s hard, distracting, and dry; keep praying.
Anyone who has prayed knows that distractions and dryness are common obstacles. We try to pray, and we start thinking about the bills or the soccer game or the person who cut us off in traffic earlier in the day. St Catherine tells us that these distractions and dryness are allowed by God to help us to grow in humility and trust. We persist through them continually drawing ourselves back to God. God revealed to St. Catherine that he permits them “out of love, to preserve the soul and make it grow in the virtue of humility… receiving with humility the consoling prayer and the dry prayer, accepting with love the love with which He gives His graces…God went on to reveal to her that the person “should be humble therefore…and receive joy or the lack thereof according to my will, not according to its own will.”
Given our human woundedness, distractions are to be expected. St. Theresa of Avila said to her sisters, “When one of you finds yourself in a sublime state of prayer but then wanders off after the most ridiculous things in the world you should laugh at it and treat it as the silly thing it is and remain in your state of quiet.”
A priest received a visit from a very good friend who had two small children. She brought the children along for the visit. The children demanded a lot of her attention during their time together, there was a diaper change, one asked for a glass of water, and the other wanted a toy out in the car. After leaving, the young woman thought the visit had gone terribly. The priest on the other hand only remembered the good time he had visiting with his friend. Prayer with God is like that. He’s not bothered by our distractions, as long as we keep bringing ourselves back to Him, those distractions are nothing. He only wants to spend time with us.
When we persevere in prayer even when we’re distracted, we come to a greater humility. We know our weakness, and we will know how much God loves us, and wants us to be with him in prayer.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley