Monday, July 28, 2014

Asking for that one humiliation a day

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. 


  1. I must laugh as I read this because I need not ask for these 'little humiliations' ... if you are not part of the majority in any way(race, opinion,height...whatever) these are a common occurrence.Dealing gracefully with it on every occasion ...not so consistent. It can be hard to tell yourself that they don't know any better because so very often, the person is putting themselves above you....Variety is the spice of life so every so often, a friend will deliver the insult, the thoughtless or unkind word....the indifference...What is truly humbling is catching oneself in the act of doing this to another....

  2. "She knows her blessedness is a boastfulness of the blessedness of God" as she is filled with the Holy Spirit. No frLuke, giving your glory to God in openness is itself a humility, humble to acknowledge that 'I am not the master of my life but God is.' And it takes courage too. For me, this is new evangelization; and so i shall fb it, in obedience to Pope (E) Benedict XVI that technology "is put in our hands to announce the Gospel.".


  3. There is no "I" nor "me" nor "ego" in a God-centred life.
    "He must increase, but I must decrease”, says John the Baptist (John 3:30)...
    ... and only through Grace can one becomes Christ-like.

    ... and humiliation received in the wrong spirit is actually an ego trip... that is when pride enters through the backdoor :)


  4. Is it a death wish? No. It is a beginning of a new life that God wants me to be humble enough to learn from my mistakes. It is through humiliation that I ask for God's help in prayer, reflection, strength and guidance. Gradually, I learn : what is my journey on earth and how I could be truly called a son or daughter by my Heavenly Daddy. I am still learning ..

  5. Some years ago, our little parish was ear-marked for upgrading.........everything had to go- for the church was too small to accommodate the influx of young and growing families into the neighbourhood. Sadly, our beloved parish priest who had been shepherding the flock for the past 18 years - had to make way too for a younger one who would (seemingly) be more energetic and strong to see this massive project through. Many were the faithful who wanted to make representations to the bishop, to insist on retaining their parish priest for they felt it was a humiliation to transfer him to a church without a parish and later on (because of his age) to become an assistant priest to one of his former ‘pupil-priest’ – for he was Spiritual Director to many of the seminarians once.

    Surprisingly, for a feisty character like him who had often got things done his own way, always in command, he did not even utter any words of disappointment or displeasure and his attitude was one of quiet acquiescence. He still retained his dry sense of humour, even when the newly-minted parish priest ‘flaunted’ his entourage , eager beaver-like to start his ‘mission’ even before he had time to remove himself. It must have been a time of ‘raining humiliations’ - to see his “old” things strewn haphazardly in little corners...........and I felt for him and thought could he take all this? It seemed so unfair!

    Much later, when celebrating the Golden Anniversary of his Sacerdotal Ordination those who went to celebrate the mass with him, received a card with this reflection :-

    “To obey, it is not enough to do what obedience commands. It is necessary to do it without reasoning about it. Be convinced that whatever is commanded is the best thing that can be done.
    We are normally inclined to command and often unwilling to obey. Yet it is certain that to obey is more advantageous than to command.”

    The truth dawned on me! I was at once reminded of Our Lord’s humiliations (Lk22:55-62),the prophets Isaiah (50:6)and Jeremiah(23:40, 31:19) who bewailed the suffering humiliations of the One who came in obedience to the Father’s will. This very ordinary parish priest was not preaching humility but extra-ordinarily and quietly living it! In doing so, he was like you said, he has “...........thus make the quest for the virtue of humility life-long, .......................................recovering one’s true and original face.” – yes the face of the Lord and Master he had given up all to follow..........the face of Love.

    God bless you, Fr.


  6. Years ago I decided that I would willingly be a fool for God. I even gave myself a name: “God’s fool.” By this I mean I would gladly be seen by others as an idiot, a simpleton - for following a path so out of step, so contrary to what the world holds dear.

    But I wasn’t prepared for the many humiliations along the way, and resisted strongly to be the fool I promised to be! Such lofty ideals; but in reality much harder to put into practice than originally imagined.

    Coming out of the confessional this morning it became apparent to me that going to confession itself is an act of humility; and therefore frequent confession should be the norm if one is to ‘practise’ being humble. What a wonderful church the Catholic church is: She gives us the opportunity to humble ourselves. And humble we have to be, since God is far from the proud of heart. God bless!