Grace: I ask that I may be free enough to choose whatever God’s grace may indicate as his particular call to me.
Reading: John 21:15-19
Reflection: Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times. Each time, I imagine, Peter became more and more uncomfortable:
“Jesus, of course I love you. We’ve been through so much together.”
“Uh, yes . . . yes, I love you. Jesus.”
“(gulp) You keep asking me, Jesus, and I am afraid that all I can say is ‘yes. I do love you.'”
Experiencing the love of Christ propels us to live as Christ. Jesus commanded Peter to “feed my sheep.” Now as most of us today are not shepherds, St. Ignatius offers us another paradigm by which to grow in the love that comes from the life of Christ: the three degrees of humility. Humility serves as a marker of one who has chosen to model his or her life on the example, teaching, and mission of Jesus. It is a virtue which all of us, no matter in what state of life we may be, should seek to develop. Each of the following three “degrees” of humility are meant not so much to be awards of accomplishment in humility as callings to an ever-deepening sense of humility and alignment with Jesus.
1. Humility for the Sake of Salvation. This is the base line minimum humility. It is necessary to turn away from the seductive power of sin and toward a life following God.
“I would want to do nothing that would cut me from God–not even were I made head of all creation or even just to save my own life here on earth. I know that grave sin in this sense is to miss the whole meaning of being a person–one who is created and redeemed and is destined to live forever in love with God my Creator and Lord” (Fleming #165).
Even though the first degree is the “base line” level, gradual conversion to this first degree is just as much a cause of rejoicing as conversion to any of the other degrees. So many people in our world (myself included) too often forget the richness of God’s love, the purity of his call, and the power of his mercy and grace. When we accept those realities over our sinfulness, we enter into the first degree. There is nothing easy about this step, so when it happens, let us praise God and rejoice with others.
2. Humility for a Detached Life. The second degree calls us to a freedom from our preferences, habits, and anything else that we consider to be ours so that we may more readily follow Christ just as Christ followed the will of God the Father above all else.
“My life is firmly grounded in the fact that the reality of being a person is seen fully in Jesus Christ. . . . With this habitual attitude, I find that I can maintain a certain balance in my inclinations to have riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, or to desire a long life rather than a short life” (Fleming, #166).
In this step a person begins to see the just how large the mission of bringing about the Kingdom of God really is. The Kingdom of God is not this world’s utopia, but rather, something of Heaven. As such, some of the commonly accepted ways of the world (e.g., honors, riches, security) are not always beneficial but distracting to the Kingdom of God. The second degree of humility opens our minds to that reality and frees our behavior so that it can choose whatever will best lead our Christian community more closely to the commands of Christ. To do the humble things that need to be done but that no one else wants to do is a tall order. Thus, like with the first degree, we should rejoice and praise God when we see models of the second degree of humility.
3. Humility for Love of the Poor Christ. The final and most pure degree of humility, the third degree propels us to live a very humble style of life similar to Christ’s life for no other reason than a sincere and profound love for the poor Christ. Rather than concerning itself first with one’s own well-being or with doing the right thing, this degree is centered around nothing more than pure love for Jesus.
“I so much want the truth of Christ’s life to be fully the truth of my own that I find myself, moved by grace, with a love and a desire for poverty in order to be with the poor Christ; a love and a desire for insults in order to be closer to Christ in his own rejection by people; a love and a desire to be considered worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than be esteemed as wise and prudent according to the standards of the world” (Fleming #167).
Names come to mind of people like St. Paul, St. Joan of Arc, The Ugandan Martyrs, Blessed Miguel Pro, Walter Ciszek, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King Jr. This degree of humility is prophetic. It captures our imaginations and confounds our minds. It is at one and the same time painful and beautiful just as Christ’s life was both painful and beautiful.
We do well to ask ourselves: where am I along this spectrum of humility? How can I grow more deeply in humility so as to grow more closely to the life of Christ? Just as he did with Peter, Jesus is constantly asking us “Do you love me?” How do we respond? If you are reading this blog (and all the way to this point) I believe that most likely you would respond with a “yes, I love you.” If that be the case, how can we grow more serious is our response of love? How do we continue to follow Christ? St. Ignatius looked to the example of Jesus to find that answer: humility.