Following humble path means knowing ‘who’ and ‘whose’ you are

| Deacon Mickey Friesen | July 21, 2011 | 0 Comments

During the days of government shutdown, political standoffs and ideological battles, it amazes me how sure everyone is about their position.

It reminds me of an article I read by David Brooks written for The New York Times in which he observed in our country an increasing kind of overconfidence and inflated sense of our abilities, intelligence and self-esteem.

Among several anecdotes to support this observation, he highlighted how 12 percent of high school seniors in the 1950s identified themselves as being “a very important person” compared to the 1990s in which more than 80 percent believed they were very important.

His big question was this: In an age of “self-confidence” and “self-expansion,” does it contribute to some of the social and political problems we face today? Does this perceived self-importance decrease our ability to foster community and seek the common good?

Lessons from our church

Sometimes this same kind of overconfidence can sneak into our religious and faith discourse as well.  Self-assured preachers and teachers of all stripes proclaim with certainty their version of the “truth.” God is said to be on “our side” of the issue.  When doctrines, Bible quotes and teachings become reduced to ego-possessions and ammunition to defend certainties they no longer are related to faith.

I’m reminded of the early Church Fathers who crafted the language that eventually became our creed.

First, they would humbly acknowledge how God is so totally beyond our comprehension and control, leaving us only in awe and adoration. In that spirit, they offered their thoughts on doctrines of Christian faith.

St. Augustine is known to have said regarding knowing God, “If we have comprehended, then what we have comprehended is not God.”

Mystics and teachers of faith such as St. Teresa of Avila made a point that Christian maturity is grounded in humility. She said, “Humility is to keep within the bounds of truth.”  This includes an honest appraisal of the truth of who we are before God and neighbor.

When we can be humbled from self-preoccupation and need to control, it is amazing how we can be led into the great mysteries of our faith and led into community and be freed to offer our gifts to be shared for the common good and building up the body of Christ. The categories of winning and losing, being right or wrong, best and worst begin to fade away.

Sometimes, people who have suffered, faced their own mortality or fallen from grace learn humility despite themselves. Behind the humble people I’ve met are persons who have had to face their limits and discovered God’s graciousness. They have uncovered what St. Paul calls the wisdom of the cross — that in our weakness, we discover strength.

A different path

From the place of humility we can experience God’s providence, which gives meaning to our ups and downs, our successes and failures.  We can witness to truth without needing to control the outcome of where that truth should lead us.

Christian humility opens us to possibilities beyond our current understanding and creates a spacious heart able to hold contradictions and conflict graciously until there is reconciliation.

Humility helps us to grow in honesty. Humility helps us to participate in community. Humility can inspire reverence and awe that lead us to true worship and thanksgiving to God who is beyond understanding.  Humility can realign us to find our place in God’s plan.

The path of humility is the path of God among us. As St. Paul says, “Even though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather he emptied himself. . . . He humbled himself” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Following the humble path is not about being passive or disengaging from action.  Rather, it means knowing “who” you are and “whose” you are as you engage that world.

Deacon Mickey Friesen is director of the archdiocesan Center for Mission.

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Category: Mission Link, Spotlight