Humility: the foundation of prayer and service – May 2006

Pope Benedict wrote in Deus Caritas Est“In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord.  It is God who governs the world, not we.  We offer him our service only to the extent that we can, and for as long as he grants us the strength.  To do all we can with what strength we have, however, is the task which keeps the good servant of Jesus Christ always at work: ‘The love of Christ urges us on’ (2 Cor 5: 14).  #35 Deus Caritas Est.

This humility is what must characterize the interior disposition of anyone, of everyone, who wishes to walk on his life’s journey as a disciple of the Lord.  For without it, we will stray in one wrong direction or another.  Instead of following the Lord’s lead, we might, for example, give in to the temptation to take charge, in other words, to do go our own way rather than to follow his way. Or we may go to the other extreme and give in to a certain inertia in which we explain away our mediocre response to the challenges of discipleship saying: it doesn’t make any difference anyway.

Didn’t somebody say once that life is messy?  Such is the state of our fallen nature; virtue is achieved with difficulty and only through our cooperation with God’s grace.  Original sin has left our will weakened, our reason clouded and our heart confused in its desires. And faced with the messiness of our lives, we can sometimes be tempted to sell the gospel short.  But in doing so, we sell ourselves short.  Jesus tells us:  “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  We need that humility that Pope Benedict speaks us if we are not to give into a “false compassion” or pursue a “cheap grace” that for being cheap is counterfeit.

Without that humility that Pope Benedict spoke about we all can stray.  We will most certainly stray.  And so that we do not stray, Pope Benedict in that beautiful encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est, offers as the only antidote: a living relationship with Christ – a relationship that is nurtured and strengthened in prayer.

Prayer can give us serenity even when dealing with the messiness of our lives – for in prayer we learn to trust in the power of Divine Mercy even when we are confronted with the weakness of our own human nature. Prayer reminds us to “Let go and let God”.  Of course this does not mean a resigned passivity in the face of life’s challenges.  We must pray as if everything depended on God – and work as if everything depended on us.  But prayer must be the “soul” of all our human activity.  In this way, prayer can keep us humble even while humility itself is the foundation of prayer.  As the Catechism teaches (cf. 2559), the one who speaks with God “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart will experience the gift of prayer.

Indeed, if we are to serve our brothers and sisters as we strive to leave this world a better place, we must follow the example of Christ, who knelt to wash the feet of his disciples.  We have to kneel – in humility – to wash the feet of the people we wish to serve; but, if we are to do so consistently and constantly, day after day, then we must learn to kneel before our God in humble adoration and prayer.  In this way, we will always be prepared to “do what we can and…entrust the rest to the Lord”.