Sunday, November 5, 2017

EVEN SO MY SOUL

The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Matthew 23:12)


Experiences of humiliation can lead us to become humble but they are not in themselves virtuous; feelings of inferiority can also lead us to humility but they are not in themselves virtuous. Jesus calls us to humility and not to humiliation or inferiority.

My mother had a very simple answer to my inferiority complex! She said you should neither look up to anyone nor look down on anyone and that Jesus is the only one who is perfect.

So in my search for humility I am called to focus on Jesus rather than on self and through Jesus to be taken into the perfect embrace of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – where we encounter love and mercy in its perfection. Humility is born when I have the grace to be still and know that God is God and in His presence I “bow and bend low” in worship.

In His presence I discover who I am and who you are. None of us is either greater or less than the other. As Jesus says when He warns us against self-promotion, “you have only One Father”, One Master, One Teacher and we are all brothers and sisters.

Psalm 131 introduces us to the deepest possible form of humility:

Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Lord, my heart is not proud
  nor haughty my eyes.
I have not gone after things too great
  nor marvels beyond me.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
Truly I have set my soul
  in silence and peace.
A weaned child on its mother’s breast,
  even so is my soul.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
  both now and forever.
Keep my soul in peace before you, O Lord.

My heart is not proud! Truly I have set my soul in silence and in peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, a child at rest in its mother’s arms, even so my soul! The heart of humility is here and this is who we are called to become – a trustful child in the arms of God.

I have had the grace to hold my five nephews and three nieces in their infancy. It has always been an experience filled with love and emotion. At Mass this morning I was asking the children if they had ever held a baby and a number of girls and boys said yes. “And what did it feel like?” I asked. The boys shrugged their shoulders but the girls said immediately that they felt love and they felt emotional! I guess the boys did too but they didn’t know how to put it into words.

Babies can be trustful and sometimes cautious and restless in the embrace of an adult. I’m thinking of the two youngest because my experiences with them are the most recent and therefore my memories of them are clearer.



Laura was the most chilled baby ever. I often tell her that she was silent for the first six months – until she found her voice and when she found that then there was no stopping her. She would just lay there sleeping or in a dreamlike daze. I have memories of her sound asleep on her father’s shoulder. She represents the kind of trustful abandon that is at the heart of Christian spirituality.

Katie was more alert and less inclined to sleep but I had this experience with her when she was a few months old. I went to visit one Saturday and Elaine was doing the cleaning, so she put Katie into my arms, put me into the sitting room, asked me to look after her and closed the door.

So we sat there on a rocking chair, Katie and me, playing and chatting in the way one does with a baby. And after a while she rested her head on my chest. So I sang to her. Sang songs in Swahili, sang hymns and she fell asleep with her head resting on my chest and she remained like that for over an hour.

This became for me a most precious period of meditation. I simply held her, gazed on her, felt the warmth of her. I was deeply touched by the way she trusted me enough to fall asleep and it seemed in this that God was inviting me to be like her – a child resting trustfully in His arms.

I go back to this from time to time. Each one of us can enter into such an experience in prayer. Simply close your eyes and in the privacy of your soul where only you and God abide. And there you can surrender to Him, be held by him, loved by Him.

In our strength we resist going to such a place within ourselves but Alcoholics Anonymous have discovered that surrender to the Higher Power is essential for recovery. Addicts in recovery understand this too.  Our Higher Power is God, revealed to us in Jesus.




It is especially important for us to surrender to the Divine Embrace where we are not well. Another memory from my own childhood is in a time when I was very sick with shingles, my mother took me into bed with Dad and herself and, though she could not take away the pain, could not make me better immediately, I felt secure in her embrace. And it’s the same with God. Not that He cannot take away the pain but He holds us through the necessary experience of pain and sees us through to the other side of it.

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