I’ve always found humility a tricky virtue. Am I humble? As soon as I think I am, it’s out the window, right? “oh, and I’m really good at being humble, too…” I’ve always struggled praying for it, because just like patience, the only way you’re going to get better is by practicing it! So be careful when praying that litany of humility…
I used to think being humble meant not accepting compliments, although that innately rings hollow. While at times we might not deserve what people say about us, at other times we do, and brushing off sincere compliments can often be a sign of pride rather than humility!
So what is the answer to that elusive virtue of humility? While whole libraries can be written on the topic, this morning my spiritual reading gave me an insight to help me work on the virtue.
Always remember that the gifts in my life were not given to me for myself alone.
If I can walk forward in life with this realization always before me, I think I can better cooperate with God’s attempts to make me humble.
First, everything is gift. That even includes things we have worked hard for or things that we seemingly deserve. Hard work is good and should be valued in its proper place – it’s the way we cooperate with God’s act of creation. But even that promotion at work that we earned with our perseverance, our attention to detail, and the sweat of our brow is still complete gift. I may have “accomplished” what I needed to for the promotion, but God gave me the good health, the skills, and the days of my life to accomplish it.
Those gifts also include the crosses in life and those things we seemingly don’t deserve. The suffering of an illness, the fender bender on the way to the beach, or the broken relationships in our family may not be what we wanted in life, but they are part of the intricate tapestry of our journeys to heaven. God has chosen us to carry His cross with him, and we know that the only way to Easter Sunday is through Good Friday. Even the crosses, with the proper vision of love, are gifts.
None of these gifts, however, were given to us solely for our own benefit. That realization first really hit me in Rome in the Spring of 2005. I was living over there as part of Christendom College’s study abroad program, and it just happened to be the spring that John Paul II died. To spend a semester in Rome is already a gift, but to witness the funeral of the only Pope I had ever known and a papal election was too much to even process. It was pure gift, and all of my friends and I began asking the same question: Why? Why were we there at that moment to experience those events? We quickly realized the graces were given to us for various reasons, but above all, to somehow take home and share. For me, it meant studying theology and eventually working for the Church. I had experienced a profound encounter with the Church and I wanted to spend my life helping others encounter the beauty of the Church in some way.
The gifts in our lives—and everything is gift—are not given to us for ourselves alone. We don’t exist on this earth as little automatons, accomplishing our tasks in isolation. We were made for community, and any grace we receive is given to us for the benefit of others too.
Humility is viewing the world through this lens. And no one did it better than our Blessed Mother.
We see it most clearly in her Magnificat. When Elizabeth praises her, Mary responds with utmost humility. Notice it is not the false humility of deflection—a trap I fall into so often. She doesn’t deny the blessing: “Oh, Elizabeth, it’s nothing, really.”
Instead, she recognizes the blessing but recognizes it as pure gift. She has not earned this. And while I would be tempted to think, “Hey, it’s been hard work staying sinless this far in my life! It’s about time someone recognized it.” She immediately gives credit where it belongs—the Holy Spirit working through her.
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:46-49)
She doesn’t deny the gift, but she doesn’t take credit for it either. She directs the attention to God. And then she reveals that she recognizes this grace is not for her alone. She relates to Elizabeth that the Lord has come to save his servant Israel, remembering the promise he made in the Garden of Eden and throughout the history of the chosen people.
This is humility. Yes, I’ve been blessed. Yes, generations are going to call me blessed. But I did not earn this. God has given me this grace as pure gift, and he has given it to me to share with the entire human race. She would ultimately share it when she surrendered her son on Calvary, allowing humanity to crucify him.
The gifts in my life are not given to me for myself alone. As part of our daily prayer life, perhaps we should start looking back on the events of our day and finding the gifts God has given us. Perhaps some of them are joys, while others look more like crosses. If we take the time each day to find the gifts, we may also begin to see why they were given to us. Some of these reasons will be apparent immediately, some in a few weeks or months, and others not until heaven. But as we make a conscious effort to see the gifts, to thank God for them, and to recognize that they were given to us for others, I think we will get a little closer to being the humble servants He wants us to be.