The next few days I would like to feed you some quotes from St. Francis de Sales, the great writer for lay folks. This first one addresses those of us who are overly concerned about doing everything right (another word for pride :-):
Take great care not to get overly upset whenever you commit some faults. Humble yourself immediately before God, but let this humility be a loving humility, which will fill you with fresh confidence to throw yourself immediately into God’s arms, secure in the knowledge that God, in his goodness, will help you to change for the better. And so, whatever be the faults you commit and whenever you commit them, gentle ask God’s pardon and tell him that you are perfectly sure that he loves you still and that he will forgive you. Always do this in a simple and gentle manner.
Every year around the first of the year, each of us in our community draw an Epiphany gift, a virtue for the year. (Whether it’s a gift from God or something to work on is up to each to decide. 🙂 I myself drew “Mercy” for the second year in a row. Hmmm, what is God trying to say to me?
But the virtue I wanted to post about today is “Humility”. Here’s a great story about the superiority of humility to every other virtue:
Humility is of more value than the greatest asceticism. One day, as the desert monk St. Macarius (AD 300-391) was returning to his cell, the devil attacked him swinging a scythe, but was unable to wound him. The devil complained, “Macarius, i suffer a lot of violence from you, for I cannot overcome you. Whatever you do, I do also. If you fast, I eat nothing; if you keep watch, I never sleep. There is only one way in which you surpass me: your humility. That is why I cannot prevail against you.” (Frederica Matthewes-Green in The Jesus Prayer)
Something I wrote a couple of years ago, and still so true–and I am writing this foremost for myself!
Christmas! Who doesn’t love this time of year? Many people say to me of Advent and Christmas, “This is my favorite season!” I’m sure we can all easily think of our reasons for that: lighting Advent wreaths, Christmas lights and caroling, Midnight Mass, etc. And yet I know there are many of us who are only too aware of how little prepared we actually are for His coming, of how our weaknesses and faults, anxieties and busyness, seem to keep us from any kind of adequate preparation for this Feast. The Prayer from the Divine Liturgy for Christmas in the Eastern Church gives hope: “O little Child lying in a manger, by means of a star, heaven has called and led to you the Magi, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, who were astounded to behold, not scepters and thrones, but extreme poverty. What, indeed, is lower than a cave? What is more humble than swaddling clothes? And yet the splendor our your divinity shone forth in them resplendently. O Lord, glory to you!” Take heart! We need not be afraid of the “stable” of our lives–as Fr. David May form Madonna House says: “The Child teaches us not to be afraid of the barren, winter of our wounded hearts, of our human emptiness. For, by grace, these have become an Advent for us. . . . He awaits us there where we are most in need and most afraid: in the dark cave of our poverty.” Yes, take heart. At a mere opening of the door of your “stable,” Christ can shine resplendently therein!
I feel like I’m in a time of stripping. (Ever feel that way? 🙂 And I don’t like it. (Ever feel that way?) I don’t like feeling weak and unrighteous and incapable and . . . you fill in the blank. I don’t like not feeling on top of it or in control. But–what should I expect if I am re-reading God Alone Suffices, the book I kept feeling drawn to pick up again and re-read? How do I expect to learn that God alone suffices unless I know how much I don’t suffice? (You think you’ve learned that lesson . . . and then you find out there’s, oh, so much more to learn . . .) This is not an easy book to read–because God seems to always provide the lab part while reading it. 🙂 Reading Biela’s books are not for the faint of heart–or maybe they are for the faint of heart because those are the poor of spirit . . . He’s not really writing anything new–he just does not sugarcoat the truth. The good news, though, is that God only strips in order to bring us into a deeper knowledge of His love. To be blunt, it’s pretty hard for a husband to be intimate with his wife while she still has her clothes on. And it’s just as hard for us to know the much more intimate love of God while we’re clinging to other things so tightly. So it’s a great grace for Him to allow us to be stripped.
By knocking with His light, Jesus tells us: Let us, you and I, look at you, whom I love, together. Jesus desires that upon seeing the darkness of your soul, you experience His love. (S.C. Biela, Open Wide the Doors to Christ, p. 56)
“[Humility] is to have a place to hide/when all is hurricane outside.” (Jessica Powers)
This Sunday’s poem is by Jessica Powers:
Humility is to be still
under the weathers of God’s will.
It is to have no hurt surprise
when morning’s ruddy promise dies,
when wind and drought destroy, or sweet
spring rains apostatize in sleet,
or when the mind and month remark
a superfluity of dark.
It is to have no troubled care
for human weathers anywhere.
And yet it is to take the good
with the warm hands of gratitude.
Humility is to have place
deep in the secret of God’s face
where one can know, past all surmise,
that God’s great will alone is wise,
where one is loved, where one can trust
a strength not circumscribed by dust.
It is to have a place to hide
when all is hurricane outside.
Jessica Powers (1947; 1984)
Heaven’s response at our penitence.
This poem by Mother Mary Francis, a poor Clare, has been on my mind this morning:
Choreography for Angels
“I say to you, that there is joy among the angels
in heaven upon one sinner doing penance . . . ”
Who spun these Angels into dance
When wars are needing all artillery
Of spirits’ cannonading. Armistice
Wants first the over-powering wings, and they
Are occupied with pirouettes! Who did this?
Gone penitent, I caused it. I confess it.
Who tilted flames of Seraphim
In arabesques of pure delightedness?
Is not the cosmic crisis begging fire
For full destruction of hate’s hazarding!
Why Seraphs swirling flames on floors of heaven?
I lit the heavens, when I bent my head.
Who lined mystic corps-de-ballet
Of Cherubim? Who set in pas-de-deux
This Power with this Principality?
Why these Archangels not on mission sent
Today, but waltzing on the stars, and singing?
I am the one who did this. I confess it.
I smote my errant heart, and Angels danced.
May we remember this is the reality of the Heart of God.
I guess this is a bit of a follow-up to “When you feel like you have nothing left to give”. I’m thinking of how so often I feel that when I try to give to folks, I don’t feel like I’m doing it very well or saying it very well. Dom Hebert van Zeller addresses this in the following excerpt from his book, The Inner Search. Too often I’m more concerned about how well I’m doing things rather than about the importance of just doing something and and maybe doing it badly, but being willing to be humble. Of course, this is true of loving God as well as loving my neighbor. It’s important for us to know who we really are as well as who God really is. A lesson I’m obviously still learning.
What costs the soul most is not the service itself, or the love itself, or the suffering itself, but the sense of serving badly, suffering badly, loving badly. What God wants is not only the acts of service, love, suffering, but the acts of resignation to personal insufficiency.
For the soul to know that the whole purpose is to search after God, and at the same time to see how half-hearted is its search, must lead either to dependence or to defeat. If the soul makes use of the knowledge and trust in God, it learns humility. If the soul makes use of the light only in order to be miserable, it exchanges the darkness of faith for the darkness of self. The grace of true humility is sacrificed for the false comfort of self pity.