Yesterday at Mass, we lit the fourth candle on the Advent wreath. That means that Advent is almost over – we’re in the home stretch! Soon it will be time for the more somber, anticipatory mood of this season to give way to the joyful and celebratory mood of the Christmas season. Of course, if you are anything like me (and hopefully you are not), you may not have been doing such a great job this year at maintaining a “somber” and “anticipatory” mood when the rest of the world is already in full celebration mode. Perhaps (also like me) you have not been doing such a great job of observing the penitential and preparatory aspects of Advent either. Advent should be a time to prepare our hearts, souls, and minds for the coming of the Savior at Christmas – which helps us to be ready if the Lord were to come back for us today. But, it’s so easy in this society to skip over the season of Advent in our day-to-day lives and perhaps even easier to start the season off strong, with a lot of plans about how we are going to observe it this year, and then lose momentum and commitment as Christmas grows nearer. If you are prone to doing either of those things, now is the time to commit (or recommit) to making sure that you will not be found with no oil in your lamp when the Bridegroom comes.
When I think about readying myself for the Lord’s coming, one virtue in particular stands out to me as being the key that unlocks other virtues and paves the way for a right relationship with God, and that is the virtue of humility. The essence of humility, I think, is recognizing our own lowliness and weakness and submitting ourselves to the One who enables us to be and do anything good. People who are humble strive not to gain glory for themselves, but to gain glory for the Lord. In contrast, when we are prideful, we may have an inflated opinion of ourselves, fail to give God the credit for what is good about us, and seek to win the affection and high opinion of others more than we seek to please God. I know that in my own life, I can trace almost all of my sins back to my lack of humility. I know that my pride stands in the way of me being the person that God has created me to be. (It’s kind of ironic to me that I sensed God calling me to write about this virtue for this blog post, even though I am hardly a model of it. Perhaps God wants to speak to me through my own writing).
This last week of Advent–when we are recommitting ourselves to being ready for the Bridegroom– is the perfect time to work on growing in the virtue of humility. Here are some ideas I’ve come up with for aiding in the growth of humility and ending the season of Advent on a high note:
1) Get to Confession! Frequent Confession is very important to keeping our souls in tip-top shape, but many of us (including me) do not go as often as we should. If you haven’t had a chance to get to Confession yet this Advent, try to go this week. If your parish is not offering any scheduled Confession times, see if you can get an appointment with your priest or try to catch him before or after a daily Mass. Confession requires us to humble ourselves before God and another human being (the priest) through the act of admitting that we are imperfect and have injured our relationships with God and the Church, and that we are powerless to repair those relationships on our own.
I finally made it to Confession two Saturdays ago, after not having been for a while, and I am so glad that I did! I always dread going to Confession (probably because of my pride!) but am so grateful after I go. Even if I don’t leave the confessional feeling great happiness or peace (which I certainly have felt at times), I can always tell that the grace of God received from going to Confession is at work in my life in the following days. I am a better wife and mommy and I don’t feel so over-burdened by my responsibilities. Most importantly, feelings aside, I know intellectually that God has showered me with his mercy and washed away my sins, providing me with a clean slate.
2) Meditate on the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I love the Joyful Mysteries. I especially love to pray and meditate on the Annunciation and the Nativity. Meditating on those two mysteries provides a lot of opportunity to think about and pray for the virtue of humility.
At the Annunciation, Mary performs probably the greatest act of humility possible for a human being when she says to the Angel Gabriel, “Behold I am the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.” As her Son later will do in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary says “not my will, but yours” to the Father. Mary doesn’t question God’s plan or even her fittingness for it; instead, she gives an absolutely unqualified “yes” to the Lord. How difficult this is for the rest of us, whose incurring of Original Sin has caused us our wills to be corrupted and out of line with God’s! But still we can strive for that perfect humility, which is attainable by God’s grace.
At the Nativity of Jesus, we see the ultimate example of humility – God, in the person of Jesus Christ, comes to Earth as a helpless baby, completely dependent on his mother and father. And He is born into this world in a dirty stable, surrounded by animals. I often wonder what it would have been like for Mary to lay her baby – who she knew to be the Savior – down in a bed of straw. It seems so unfitting for the King of Kings, but at the same time, it was the best that Mary could offer at that moment. Not only was this a display of Jesus’ humility but also another display of Mary’s, as she again accepted the Lord’s plan (enigmatic though it was) and did not fret over the humble circumstances of His birth.
3) Do something kind for someone else. Do it anonymously, if possible. On the feast of St. Nicholas I found outside my front door a bag of goodies, with an anonymous note wishing me a happy St. Nicholas Day. It wasn’t an expensive or extravagant gift, but it lifted my spirit so much! I’m not sure if the person who left the gift for me knew how in need of that spirit-lifting I was at the time, but maybe they are reading this now and realizing that their gift probably meant more than they knew it would. This incident was an opportunity for both the gift-giver and me to exercise humility. Of course it’s humbling to give a gift without getting any credit for it, but it’s also humbling to accept a gift without having anyone to say “thank you” to or to repay in some way. Since St. Nicholas’ feast day, I have been looking for opportunities to bless others in this same manner. It’s a nice thing to do during Advent and Christmas, but it’s also something that I think I should make more into more of a habit.
4) Add a new element to your prayer life. If you do not already do it, now is a good time to start setting aside time each day for silent, meditative prayer, which is essential to a good spiritual life. In meditative prayer, we can humbly lay our weakness and needs before the Lord and quietly “listen” for his voice (which will most likely be inaudible) in response. Meditative prayer is a wonderful vehicle through which to grow in the virtue of humility (and any other virtue). If you are already practicing meditative prayer, consider adding a new formulaic prayer to your prayer life. As we’re talking about humility, this is a good place to plug a favorite prayer of mine (which I do not pray as often as I need to!) – the Litany of Humility. It is a difficult prayer to pray at first, in the sense that you might not be able to pray it completely sincerely; but over time, God’s grace will make it easier for you to pray it and mean it.
5) Resolve to stop criticizing others. One of my sisters made this resolution for the entire month of December. She told me that forcing herself to keep quiet when she wants to say something critical has led to a lot less talking, making her realize just how much of what she said on a daily basis was negative. When we stop focusing on others’ faults, it helps us to recognize our own faults and to resolve to fix them. And we inevitably will come to the realization that we are completely incapable of fixing them without God’s grace (a humbling realization, indeed!). That in turn may cause us to realize that we have no business judging and criticizing others when it is ONLY by God’s grace that we do not possess the flaws that we are criticizing others for (or it might cause the even more humbling realization that we DO in fact possess those flaws, as I have found that it is often the flaws I have in common with others for which I criticize them most harshly).
6) Lastly, invite a friend to go to Mass with you. I am talking about someone who does not already attend Mass on a weekly basis – a non-practicing Catholic or a non-Catholic. Perhaps you can invite ALL your friends by posting your parish’s Christmas schedule on your Facebook page (if you have one). I got this idea from one of the lovely ladies in our online Catholic community. She was lamenting the fact that Protestants frequently invite others to their services but Catholics do not seem to reach out to people in that same way. We have a great treasure in the Liturgy and we are SO blessed to be part of our Church – how can we withhold that from others? This is an opportunity to grow in humility because, in order to accomplish this task, we have to set aside our fear of being rejected or made fun of, and we also have to overcome the prideful part of us that tells us that so-and-so is not really worthy to come to Mass (because of the way they dress, talk, act, etc.). The reality is that NONE of us is worthy of the Mass (remember the prayer that we pray during the Liturgy of the Eucharist – “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”).
These six tasks taken together may seem like a tall order for the last week before Christmas (there are many things to get done during this week, no doubt). Even if you can’t do most or all of them, pick a few to focus on. I believe that the Lord blesses any sincere effort toward bettering ourselves for Him. Let us humbly ask God for the grace to make that effort in these last days before Christmas.
I wish all of the Catholic Sistas readers a most blessed Fourth Week of Advent, and a very Merry Christmas!
*The title of this post came from Psalm 25:9.
**Image of the Advent wreath came from www.thecatholicgiftstore.com
***Image of the Annunciation came from http://www.scripturalrosary.org/annunciation.html
****Image of the church sanctuary came from the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/media/124447/Altar-decorated-for-Christmas-St-Josaphat-Catholic-Church-Detroit-Mich