Monday, March 7, 2016

Becoming More Christ-Like

I am working on becoming more humble, or maybe I am just kidding myself.  But this past week I was humbled, by God and neighbor.  I heard and saw so many blunt lessons, and I felt like a child who had been admonished by his parents:  “Look!  NOW do you understand??”  And I also know that I was blessed in many ways this week, this most difficult humiliating week.
We’ve been told in various ways that we must become more Christ-like, and we sometimes admonish others of the same thing.  And we DO sincerely wish, through our efforts and those of others, to make our lives and this world a better place.  Unfortunately, despite what we wish, most often our efforts are just that:  wishes.  And for as much as we speak of these required efforts, it seems no one hears the words we speak, and perhaps least of all, ourselves.
Early in this past week I think my perspective was somewhat like that of a teenager sent to the store to pick up just one item, and who returned home late, having spent too much money on too many frivolous things, and having forgotten the one thing he was sent to get.  Like that teenager, I often reacted to lessons I was being taught with excuses, even in the face of obvious facts which showed my failures:  “But you don’t understand,” or “I tried,” I tended to say in my heart.  It’s as if mom’s favorite vase was broken and we were the only ones in the room, and the word “But …” would automatically begin our explanation.  And of course when excuses are really lies, often tempers tend to become aroused, and voices raised in frustration.  And just when there seems to be no room for agreement, suddenly there would be silence, neither side wanting to escalate things further.
And then the quiet would be broken by the ADULT in the room, who would quietly say:  “You know that I love you.”
Early in this week as I reacted like a silly teenager, I read those EXACT words, and I knew Who was saying them to me.  And I think then I finally reached a point of stunned silence, even as I didn’t like what I was hearing.  I couldn’t argue with those words.  And so I tried to listen more.
But having my mind’s eye opened wasn’t enough, and I found my reaction/defense could perhaps be described as like someone who sees he has been invited to a party and wants to attend.  So I saw this new path being put before me, and I took control.  I thought about and planned my actions.  I planned to “be nice” going forward, as if I were going to stop for flowers and gifts on the way to the party.  I felt reminded, and I affirmed that I KNOW what it is to be Christ-like, and so perhaps if along the way I were to see a beggar in the rain I’d stop to help him.  And if I saw a car by the side of the road I’d stop to help, even so far as getting underneath to fix its oil leak.  And I’d remember to stop for those flowers (and perhaps take a tour of the beautiful garden, God’s workings).  And, of course, as I went along looking at all those things around me, sometimes I might trip and fall.  That was the sort of attitude, a changed destination but still in control, that I assumed.  And then it was as if I eventually did arrive at the party location as planned and gave my invitation to the doorman, perhaps with a bit of satisfaction at my Christ-like journey, ---- but then I saw myself in the mirrors lining the walls of the party entranceway:  And I was shocked to see the man, myself, in dirty, disheveled clothes, with wind-blown hair and holding some dead flowers.  I was shocked at how I looked so unprepared for the party, which I had prepared for.
I think this week it was as if God took His hands and forcibly turned my head to look at those mirrors, and made me see myself, and how I was leading my life on the path to His party.  And I was humiliated.
Despite all my plans and all my efforts and all my knowledge I clearly saw myself:  I am a sinner, and I will always be one.  It is a humbling realization, that despite my efforts --- and my progress --- I am still a sinner.  And then in the silence God said to me:  “But you know I love you.”  And like the child spoken to by his parent, I know the words are true, but still I am ashamed.
On the night before I finally got to confession I read these words, as I meditated on the day’s Gospel:
Confession heals, confession justifies, confession grants
pardon of sin.  All hopes consist in confession.
-- St. Isidore of Seville
The words were no coincidence; I had often prayed to St. Isidore as a child.  The elementary school I attended was named in this saint’s honor.  And then I read on to the Gospel where Luke wrote about “some people who prided themselves on being virtuous,” and about the tax collector who “beat his breast and said, God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  And in meditating on that Gospel I recalled how it was written that we must become like little children --- and I thought I understood that call to humility.  But then I read further meditations, which stated bluntly things that I DIDN’T understand --- in my heart.  “Children aren’t angels, but they certainly are dependent on their parents, and they know it.  This is basic humility.”  I thought I knew and had a good perspective on so many things at the start of the week, but those three little words summarized my ignorance:  “Children aren’t angels” --- and neither am I.
The Litany of Humility prayer says: “Deliver me, Jesus, from the fear of being humiliated.”  Perhaps indeed I don’t “fear” humiliation, but it doesn’t mean I like it.  Looking in the mirror and seeing myself with the eyes of God is a humiliating thing.
But it is a blessing.
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One particular thing happened during this past week which was part of my lesson on humility, but it wasn’t about my life.
At the end of the board meeting last Thursday, our chairman asked one of the board members how things were going for her.  A board member, she is also one of the developmentally disabled people our organization cares for.  Usually quiet in past meetings, it seems she only spoke up when an issue got heated, and when she heard the voices raised and perceived a big problem ---- which she usually didn’t understand --- she would sometimes interrupt and ask a very basic question, and then in our attempts to create a simple response she would understand, we slowed down and gained some simple understanding ourselves, and were humbled at our behavior.
At the end the meeting this last Thursday, when asked, she told us that she had been elected to lead a committee of the local Kiwanis organization.  “We meet twice a month,” she said,” to talk about people in need and how we can help them.  And then I ask the people I live with to go with me so we can help others,” she said.  “There are lots of people who need help, you know,” said this innocent angel, for whom we hire caregivers to assist with her own disabilities.
A few moments later as the meeting ended she went up to each board member and said something important which was on her mind:  “Guess whose birthday is Saturday?  I’m going to be 36 years old.”  And each of us in turn gave her a birthday hug, as she gave us a huge smile.
Yes, this was a very humbling week.  And I didn’t have to look far to see a real example of Christ-like behavior.


  1. Hi Tom --- Fran here,
    I've tried a couple of times to write something in response to this, but I just can't seem to express what I want to say. This will be my last try.
    You wrote:
    "I think this week it was as if God took His hands and forcibly turned my head to look at those mirrors, and made me see myself, and how I was leading my life on the path to His party. And I was humiliated....
    Despite all my plans and all my efforts and all my knowledge I clearly saw myself: I am a sinner, and I will always be one. It is a humbling realization, that despite my efforts --- and my progress --- I am still a sinner.”

    I had a similar experience in the same time frame, in that my sinful core became very, very evident and starkly shown to me: what I am of myself, what I am without His grace. "...I am a sinner, and I will always be one." Not only that, but in my case, I would be as bad as the worst person of the human race if not for Him in my life. Really and literally. That's not just pious hyperbole on my part. It made me sick to know it. It made me horrified.
    It can make one feel hopeless, except then it comes to mind, hey, as St. Faustina said, He is an ocean of mercy. It's not my righteousness that will get me to Heaven, it's His mercy. If not for His mercy, there would be no hope at all.

    In my knowledge of this I suddenly understood why St. Francis wept so much in his early years after conversion. He saw himself; what he was of himself; and he had so much remorse and regret.

    Anyway, I can relate.... :-)

  2. I'm glad for you, Fran. I understand.

    There have been so many blessings for me this week, and I'm sure there are more to come. Already in the quiet of my home my mind is yearning to muse on things of tonight and tomorrow --- the celebration of the feast of the Annunciation: "And the Word became flesh," and on the same date His Crucifixion, and the Life of the world died. It is a rare thing when both feasts fall on the same day, His life's beginning and end. The Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries will have much meaning tonight.