Spiritual guides have often written and spoken about the great need for humility if one sincerely intends to advance and make inroads in the spiritual life. It is almost a sine qua non for one who is serious in his or her search for holiness and saintliness. Why is this so? Possibly because its nemesis, which is pride, has often been seen as the very first sin that plagued humankind from the time when our first parents were living blissfully in the proverbial Garden of Eden. To overcome this in any serious way, one has to thus make the quest for the virtue of humility life-long, where it will become a stepping-stone toward recovering one’s true and original face.
One of the most challenging talks about this which I have heard was given by a priest who walks this talk in a very real way. He was bold in his expression of the importance of this and made a very strong and almost audacious statement about it. He cited the need for us to ask for one humiliation a day to keep us grounded and not take ourselves too seriously. Of course, this took many of his listeners by great surprise, and the more he elaborated on it, the more it really did make sense.
Humiliations come in so many ways for so many of us. It could be an incident where we were not ‘respected’ for whatever reasons, a failure, a fall, being misunderstood, being unjustly judged against, having a broken relationship, or even something as simple as someone cutting into our lane whilst driving on the road. Having a serious illness in life at a most importunate moment of our lives can also be such a 'humiliation'. How we react to these humiliations show how near or far we really may be from attaining any degree of spiritual maturity. The more ‘practice’ we have from such encounters the better we will be in handling the real challenges in life when they present themselves to us.
Some of you reading this entry may know that a year ago, I received the life-saving gift of a perfectly matching bag of precious stem cells from an anonymous donor from America. What I have come to realise as of late is that my serious illness was one of these ‘humiliations’ which I had encountered, and which has since formed, shaped and mellowed my own spiritual growth and maturity. Did I ask for it to happen to me? Not in those stark terms, but perhaps deep inside of me, I did prepare myself for such an event in case it ever did happen. There was a desire for real empathy in me, something which may need some explanation.
I had encountered many lay people in my ministry who were sufferers of illness, some of whom were seriously sick. As a priest ministering to them, I realized that there was a certain limit beyond which my empathy and outreach could not go. Much as I wanted to really be with them in their pain and sometimes utter helplessness at the situation unfolding before them, and know what their fears were, I could not. I was still an outsider looking in, at best. Often, after visiting the sick and ministering to them in their hospital bed or at home, it seemed rather easy to just get into my car and drive off back to the parish and tend to other matters, with my own life unaffected. Perhaps it did seem rather perfunctory at times, and this was a silent lament. Upon hindsight now, I can almost safely say that I did have some hidden desire to really and truly be with them in their suffering, and this silent desire was answered in the form of my own blood cancer almost a year and a half ago.
What made it bearable and not something to despair had to be my deep faith. Without faith, without the deep belief in God’s all providing love and mercy, asking for or having a silent desire for such an affliction would be akin to asking for a death wish. But when faith is something that we know is all-important, it makes a lot of sense to ask for such a serious ‘humiliation’ in one’s life. It’s not that one is ungrateful for the gift of health. It stems rather from a desire to minister, walk with and be one with from within and not just from without. Each time I reflect on the mystery of the incarnation where God took on the form of weak and sinful man, and the great humility that this shows, the hidden and silent desire to want to be with the sick in their pain, uncertainties and sometimes unanswered questioning becomes something positive rather than negative, something meaningful rather than ludicrous.
By writing this reflection, I realise that I run the risk of sounding ‘boastful’ of my desire. Make no mistake about it – I am not boasting of my faith, but if I seem to be boasting, let it be about the wonderful grace that has been bestowed upon me to want to take up this cross in life. Mary’s own life had been a journey of great crosses, yet no one who prays the words of the Magnificat would say that Mary is an egomaniac when she says “henceforth all ages will call be blessed”. She knows her blessedness is a boastfulness of the blessedness of God. In a very small but imitated way, I too know that my journey of having had blood cancer and experiencing all the ups and downs of such a challenge and yet remaining positive about this is my way of blessing God. Having had the ‘audacity’ to write about this seeming courage is a roundabout way of stating just how great my God is.
My desire for my readers of today’s blog is to encourage you to also dare to ask for that one humiliation a day to build up your strength to die to the self. It’s not something to easily ask for with great sincerity, but when it becomes a regular feature in our prayer life, our fears will be mellowed and we will come to a state where we know we will be ready for some serious challenges in life to really show our God how much faith we have in him, and how real he is to us.
Is it a death wish? I suppose it is – only thing is that what we should be truly interested to ‘kill’ is the false self and the fragile thing that we call the ego.