There are three points of reflection I invite you to consider for this Sunday: One, humility as a fruit and a process of self-awareness and self-acceptance; two, humility as a principle of relationships; and three, humility as a way of life.
St. Teresa of Avila said that humility is truth. And Ignatius of Loyola’s spiritual formation process starts with awareness. In “The Characteristics of Jesuit Education,” this is referred to as the realistic knowledge of self— taking in one’s positive qualities, blessings and talents, as well as the negative aspects, including woundedness and sinfulness. Self-awareness leads to an awareness of God’s love in all things.
What leads to humility, and the truth of who we are, is self-acceptance—embracing our blessedness, brokenness and sinfulness, which cannot but lead to embracing God’s gracious and forgiving love.
To quote from Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer, “Take and Receive”: “All things I have and all that I am, you have given all to me; to you I return them that you may dispose of me wholly according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”
‘Walk humbly with God’
One of my favorite buildings in New York City is on 5th Avenue just off Central Park. It is an old New York building, but what gives it character are the words engraved on the ground floor: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
“To walk humbly with your God” beautifully defines our relationship with Him. It means living a life of justice, compassion and kindness. Our relationships with others should also be just and compassionate, should be relationships of humility.
To relate with others justly is a basic form of humility. One Filipino term is an apt description: “pantay-pantay ang pagtingin (treat everyone equally).” This gives us a basic stance toward others from a humble perspective.
This may seem like a simple statement, but it defines so much. In our dealings, it helps us keep fairness and the common good in mind—in the vernacular, “walang lamangan.” We treat others with respect even with regard to small things, such as how we speak to them.
When one has a realistic knowledge of one’s self, like the tax collector in today’s Gospel, one will not regard one’s self above or better than others. This becomes the basic principle of one’s relationship with others.
An even deeper relationship of humility with others arises from treating people with compassion. In a previous article, we defined compassion as “entering the chaos of the other.”
Recently, I was discussing the mentoring of a young high-school student who was going through a difficult situation in her life. I recommended someone who could mentor her well. We discussed the different points that needed to be addressed. The young girl’s parents, guidance counselor and I agreed it was a perfect mentoring relationship.
This mentor went through the same struggle and pain that the young girl was going through when the mentor was her age.
This is a special grace of compassion—“to enter the chaos of the other,” because one had experienced a similar chaos, took the same journey, went through the same struggles and bore the same pain. There is no greater compassion and no greater humility than acknowledging our shared humanity.
That is humility as a basic principle of our relationships with God and with others.
The final point of reflection brings together the two previous points. Humility as a way of life is to live a life of giving—or, to be more accurate, a life of giving back.
Giving back underlines the sense of gratitude that serves as the inspiration for giving. More and more I am convinced that genuine giving comes from genuine gratitude.
The most genuine gratitude is gratitude to God. Again, in the words of Ignatius of Loyola, “all things I have and all that I am you have given all to me; to you I return them…”
Giving back comes from this giving back to God: “Take and receive, O Lord.” From this grace comes humility as a way of life—gratitude and giving back as a way of life.
Can you imagine how much better our world will be if this humility is a way of life for many, if not all, of us?
Perhaps we will surpass the “holiness” of the Pharisee and even hope to surpass the humility of the tax collector, who said: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And then be humble enough to pray: “Give me only your love and your grace, these make me rich, I ask for nothing more.”