January 13, 2011

Little Opportunities

One of the mistakes I made in the early years of my efforts to live a spiritual life was to dismiss minor temptations and humiliations as unimportant. If a humiliation was easily laughed off, it couldn't have spiritual significance, and if a temptation was easily dismissed, it couldn't have much ascetical purpose.

This was very wrong. In fact, the small temptations and humiliations of everyday life are critically important in the spiritual life, for they are the opportunities to train and exercise ourselves into the interior strength and sense we will need for the harder spiritual challenges we face.

This morning provided a good example. After Morning Prayer one of our student brothers whispered me a question: "Do you have the parish Mass today?" I responded that I did, and then looked forward to my confrere assisting at the Mass. Surely he had asked me this question because he would want to come to my Mass.

Therefore it was a small humiliation when I began the Mass and noticed that he wasn't there. "He asked because he didn't want to come if it was me!" arose the thought. (Never mind that this interpretation of things was incorrect; indeed, apprehending appearance instead of reality is the ordinary source of spiritual problems and dis-ease.) So what to do with this thought, this logismos arising from the conflict between appearances, my lack of humility, and the attack on my vanity?

When I was younger I would have just laughed off and dismissed such a thing. But now I know better. I know that my spiritual condition is too fragile and my devotion too shallow to ignore an opportunity to exercise my soul and build up some strength. So, after giving the invitation Let us pray at the beginning of Mass, allowing time for everyone to recollect themselves and form the intentions they wished to bring to the Sacrifice today, I did the same. I thanked God for the grace of the little humiliation. I made an act of thanksgiving for the mercy of my vocation, by which I have the gift of brothers that God can use to chip away at my vanity and inanity. I pray for the gift of real humility, and for God to be with me, and to help me use well the next time I am given a real humiliation.

The spiritual life is made of little, unglamorous things and momentary opportunities. Vanity dismisses them, but humility receives them gratefully.


Sara said...

Thank you.

clavis said...

Father, I have asked my priest the same question one morning after Morning Prayer, he said he was, yet I didn't stay for Mass because I couldn't. Now you've got me wondering whether I might have hurt his feelings. Sometimes, may be we shouldn't be too sensitive, no?

Brother Charles said...

Or use our sensitivity to our best spiritual advantage!

clavis said...


Tausign said...

One of my earliest posts was The Opportunity of a Humiliation. Here's an excerpt:

In his description of a 'True Friar Minor', Francis uses an illustration of himself being criticized and removed from office in the Order because…"you have no eloquence, you are simple and unlettered." He continues, "At length I am thrown out with reproaches and despised by all. I say to you unless I listen to these words [of humiliation] with the same face, with the same joy, with the same purpose of sanctity,[as words of praise], I am in no way a Friar Minor." And he added: "In an office is found an occasion for a fall; in praise, an occasion for complete destruction; in the humility of being a subject, an occasion for profit for the soul. Why then do we pay more attention to the dangers than to the profit, when we have time to gain profit?

Greg said...

Thought-provoking post. I let it percolate overnight.

I can see two different situations arising from the same scenario:

The first would be taking the snub or praise in a way that stroked the ego and inflated pride.

In this first scenario the praise or snub would be measured against the success or failure of another priest.

It would measure whether I am "better than" another. This first situation would need the antidote of humility.

In the second instance, an equally plausible scenario could be lifted from the same set of facts.

We are pleased when someone attends because they like what we're doing and we are dis-pleased when they do not attend, if it means they do not like what we're doing.

This need not have to do with pride. It may concern love.

We seek to perform our duties so to pleases others as a gift of love to them.

Knowing we are successful does not necessarily imply pride or vanity. We may simply care about increasing the amount of love and happiness in the world.

In this latter case we measure how well we are achieving the goal of bringing people to God's love, and if we need to be more successful it is not for vanity's sake, but rather to better meet His needs.

So, I would not necessarily equate concern with success with pride or vanity.