A lesson in humility

So, what was your favorite Christmas gift this season? While those closest to me were again most generous in providing wonderful trinkets and treats, it wasn’t the beautiful pair of earrings from my husband or the homemade Italian cookies from my friend that topped my list this year. 

It happened during Mass on the Third Sunday of Advent while I was gazing at the crucifix above the altar. All of a sudden something overwhelming and humbling about this God we serve hit me as if it were being revealed to me for the very first time — despite the fact I am a cradle Catholic and am hardly unfamiliar with the basics about Christ’s life. 

I don’t recall my specific thoughts or prayers that Sunday morning as I was looking at Christ on the cross. But I do remember realizing in a very profound and new way about the humility of God. It was made clearer to me along with a deeper understanding of how our God was born in a stable surrounded by animals and poor shepherds and died on a cross between two thieves. 

The message regarding God’s humility left me awestruck. The thought stayed with me through the rest of Advent. I looked at the crèche on display in my curio cabinet differently and with more intensity. 

The thought that came to me at that Mass also led to other personal and powerful reflections. For example, I began to look around my home and think about all the stuff we have and how God came in and out of this world minus any “stuff” at all, not even sufficient clothing. In the meantime I can barely find room for all of the shoes, purses and other items filling my closet. 

The humility thought also led to many other profound moments of meditation and some deep, meaningful discussions with my husband and other Christians in my circle of friends and family. I also began to hear, and I am sure this is no coincidence, more messages from Church leaders during Advent and Christmas concerning this very thing; the humility of God. 

Pope Benedict XVI’s homily for the Christmas Eve Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica highlighted this point. He used the small door to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, a door that was mostly walled off centuries ago to protect the church from those trying to enter it on horseback, as an analogy regarding our relationship with God. 

“Anyone wishing to enter the place of Jesus’ birth has to bend down. It seems to me that a deeper truth is revealed here, which should touch our hearts on this holy night: If we want to find the God who appeared as a child, the we must dismount from the high horse of our ‘enlightened’ reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness. We must follow the interior path of St. Francis — the path leading to that ultimate outward and inward simplicity which enables the heart to see. We must bend down spiritually. We must as it were go on foot in order to pass through the portal of faith and encounter the God who is so different from our prejudices and opinions — the God who conceals himself in the humility of a newborn baby.” 

I am not sure why the humility factor came to me so strongly this year. Obviously I need more humility and less “stuff” in my life — both spiritual stuff and physical stuff. And while God isn’t through with me yet, I do know I have learned to take these types of thoughts or messages not as condemnation but as gifts; gifts that really do keep on giving because they offer the timeless treasure of getting to know God and ourselves a little bit better. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.