By Jonathan Lynch
As we strike out into a new liturgical year with the beginning of the Advent Season, we are called upon to “prepare the way of the Lord.” What does this really mean for us? Christ’s first coming in the flesh has already happened over 2000 years ago, and concerning His final coming at the end of time, no reliable timeline has yet been published in any reputable news source.
But since the call to prepare for Christ’s coming is so central to the Advent Season, I think it deserves some attention. How exactly are we to understand this coming, and how are we to prepare for it?
One of the truly beautiful aspects of our Catholic Liturgical Year is that it is constantly refreshing in our minds the most important parts of our faith life. Just like Lent calls us to repentance and turning from our sins every year in preparation for Easter, Advent reminds us of Christ’s coming into our lives at our Baptism. And just like repentance is not a once-and-done deal, nor is it reserved to a few months every spring, Christ’s coming into our lives is a constant process, as we allow Him ever greater Lordship in our lives. Every Advent, we are called to open our hearts a little more to Jesus’ presence, and become a place of warmer welcome for the Son of David.
While there are many, many ways to do this, I would like to propose one way in particular this Advent. I’m sure you are all familiar with the passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” (Isaiah 40:4) To prepare for Jesus’ coming into our hearts, the low swampy ground of our sins and weaknesses need to be filled in, and the high places of our pride need to be shaved down. And it’s the latter part of that statement that I want to focus on. If there is one virtue that sums up the whole mystery of Advent, it is humility. We find the perfect example in Jesus Himself who, “Though He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at, but rather He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.” (Phil 2: 6-7) Jesus was the King of Kings, yet He was born in a stable, while the people He had come to save pretty much ignored his presence.
Humility, however, is hardly an appealing thought. It brings with it connotations of humiliation, or maybe self-deprecation. But neither of those things really capture the Catholic understanding (or definition) of humility. Humiliation and self-deprecation come about when we busy ourselves by comparing ourselves and our abilities with those of other people. Comparing ourselves to others is exhausting, discouraging, and entirely pointless. Compared to a murderer, a schoolyard bully is an exemplary peacekeeper. Compared to a professional athlete, the captain of a varsity team has no business being on the field. Comparison with other people has no objective point of reference, and will almost always leave us either shattered or puffed up.
So if we aren’t to find or define our worth by looking at other people, where are we to look?
Short answer: God.
Long answer: When we compare ourselves to God, we see how broken, sinful and weak we are, and how much in need we are of his mercy, Love, and forgiveness. The saints didn’t judge their goodness by how well they competed against unrepentant sinners. The eyes of their souls were perfected by their holiness, so they were able to see more clearly how broken they were compared to God who is holy. Many saints considered themselves to be great sinners. Now, if we stop there, we can get really discouraged, so it’s important to take it a step farther. This greater awareness of our need brings with it a greater awareness of our dependence on God, and a spiritual life more tightly bound to Jesus as our Savior and Redeemer. The more the saints saw their own imperfections, the more tightly they clung to Jesus, and the closer they grew to Him. “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He shall raise you up.” (James 4:10)
Humility in regard to God is to see Him as our creator, savior, and redeemer whose will is for our salvation and sanctification. If you want to grow in humility towards God, reflect on the ways that you can give control of your life back to God. Treat Him as if He really was God! Take time to pray. Follow his commandments.
Humility in regard to our neighbors is to see them as our equals, created and loved by God. If you want to grow in humility toward your fellow man, reflect on how they are your equals, not your inferiors. Don’t unnecessarily correct other’s small mistakes. Don’t always demand that others cave to what you want, or follow your way.
Like any virtue, the practice of humility is a struggle. While it may not be easy, it is worth it. May Christ find a smooth road to your heart, and a warm welcome when he comes this Christmas.
All for Thee, Sweet Jesus,
Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
For the glory of God,
And the salvation of souls!