Saturday, August 31, 2013

Humility: The essential virtue that opens all possibility

A few weeks back I was in Zion National Park.  One morning my friend and I decided to hike a trail called "Angel's Landing".  It rises almost 1500 ft above the canyon floor below.  It was an ambitious hike, especially for one with 2 bad knees, a bad left ankle, and...well let's just face who is carrying the equivalent of a 7th grader, weight-wise, everywhere he goes.  Going up was interesting.  More often than not I sounded like Darth Vader having an asthma attack in an echo chamber.  But after saying to myself both internally and out loud that I would not be conquered, I forged on with my friend.
  After a myriad of switchbacks and a walk through a canyon that bred a false sense of security, we came to an even more daunting set of switchbacks that led to what is called Scout Lookout.  Scout Lookout sits at roughly 1250 ft above the canyon floor.  When I looked at the trail that led to Angel's Landing, I knew I was in over my head.  The last part was cut into rock, with all the people scattered on it looked more like a busy anthill than trail, and required what is called scrambling (more an exercise of climbing than walking). I knew in all honesty, that even though I had been able to make it so far, that given my weight, my bad joints, and a slight fear of heights, that it would not be wise to go any farther.  I knew, however, were I to lose the weight, finally do something about my knees, and get in better shape, that this hike could be a possibility.  It wasn't now.  I had to be honest about that even though it did embarrass me to admit it.  Had I tried, others might well have had the unenviable task of hauling me back down and I am sure would have possibly traumatized some.  I do not tell this tale to cast myself in a downward light.  It is the truth.  The truth, at the end of the day, is what is important and worthy of being acted upon.  One cannot see the truth until one engages in humility.

In preparing for the homily this weekend, a homily focusing on Luke 14: 1, 7-14, an instruction from Christ on humility, I came upon on article by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio.  In it I found some very profound understandings of just what humility is.  I was caught with the line, "Humility does not mean looking down on oneself or thinking ill of oneself.  It really means not thinking of oneself very much at all."  Humility opens oneself to truth.  Where there is truth, one will also find God, the author of all truth.  St. John the Apostle reminds us time and again that the very nature of God is love; the complete self emptying of oneself for the good of the other.  Humility opens us to love because it opens us to properly respond to love God has already shown for us.

Humility naturally, beautifully, and powerfully leads us to move beyond ourselves and our own concerns.  It frees us from the preoccupation with self that shackles us with the chains of worrying about how we are perceived, the necessity to manipulate how we are thought of, the necessity to flaunt our wealth, power, or status, and all else that keep us from experiencing the true freedom of being those made in the image and likeness of God.  Dr. D'Ambrosio puts it so much better than I can:
The humble are free to forget themselves because they are secure.  They accept the fact that, as creatures, they are small, vulnerable, and not ultimately in control.  But they know there is a Creator who is great, omnipotent, and totally in control.  And they know that they’ve been made in the image and likeness of that Creator.  That makes gives them a dignity that they don’t have to earn and can never be taken away.  Though they’ve tarnished the divine likeness through sin, they know that the Creator came down from the heights of heaven to become human and fix what they couldn’t fix.
So when they mess up, the humble don’t have to cover up.  They just say “please forgive me,” give thanks for God’s mercy, and move on.  And when their creaturely limitations cause them to fail, they are not surprised.  They realize that they are not God.

All this is simply a way of saying that the humble are in touch with reality.  If the definition of insanity is being out of touch with reality, then our proud world with its “nice guys finish last” illusion is clearly insane.

Since the humble are secure, they are strong.  And since they have nothing to prove, they don’t have to flaunt their strength or use it to dominate others.  Humility leads to meekness.  And meekness is not weakness.  Rather, it is strength under control, power used to build up rather than tear down.
The humble are not threatened either by God’s greatness or the reflection of that greatness in the talents of others.  In fact, this is what naturally catches their eye and absorbs their attention – the goodness of God, wherever it may be found.

The form of prayer that extols God’s goodness is called praise.  The activity that honors God’s goodness in other people is called affirmation.  The humble take delight in praising God and affirming people.

The reason the humble take the last place of honor at the table is not because they think ill of themselves, but because they are preoccupied with honoring others.  And the reason people ask them to move higher is because they know this admirable attitude is rare.  In fact it is actually divine.  It is exactly the way the three Divine Persons relate to each other.  The Father glorifies the Son, the Son glorifies the Father, and the Spirit is so preoccupied with glorifying the Father and the Son that most of us feel we really don’t know much about Him.

Life is infinitely more freeing when the preoccupation with oneself and it heavy yoke are lifted from our shoulders.  Humility frees us to love and to serve.  It frees us from earthly constraints and frees us from the deceit and machinations of the devil.  It is Satan that continually tempts us towards endless self-involvement. So self deceived is he that he spreads the deception that happiness can only be found through self gratification and being served.  This is what he himself believes.  It is an empty and pain filled spiral in that deception never brings about connection with reality.  It is only distorts and frustrates.  One cannot find joy, contentment, nor peace in self-indulgence; any joy garnered is temporary at best and below expectation usually.  It is one of the main reasons we live in such a bitterly divided and angry society.  Because God wants better for us, we should as well.  The first step to experiencing the freeing love and joy we are called to and created for, first comes through humility.

Let us pray for and strive for that humility.  Let us move beyond ourselves and seek the truth.  Let us in truth know who we are, who God is, and who we are before God.  It is humility that we are given the strength to forge ahead unencumbered by the chains of self-preoccupation. It is in humility that we no longer need the accumulation of wealth, power, pleasure and honor to define us or satiate us.  It is in humility that we are no longer shackled by the fear of other people's perceptions of us. It tells us where God's action is already present and where it needs to be deepened.  The person who is humble is the person without fear and who possesses great strength and uses said strength to build up others...and takes great joy in doing so.

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