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Praying with Humility in Lent

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Lent is a joyful time about living life to the full. 

During Lent we reorder ourselves towards authentic love and truth - turning away from unauthentic, unwise, unreasonable and unloving habits in order to turn resolutely towards the face of the Lord. What could be more joyful than that? What comes with true and sincere repentance is God himself. It is about being the most you can be. This means Lent is not a time for the lazy, which is often why I find it so difficult. 

At the root of all conversion is humility, which the Catechism calls ‘the foundation of prayer’ (§2559). Given that true happiness is not possible without conversion, happiness is also not possible without humility. When you meet a truly humble person there tends to be a quiet joy and inner serenity about that person. Also, the truly humble of heart bear the wrongdoing of others patiently, because they are conscious of their own failings and how much God loves them. As St. Therese puts it, ‘I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbours' defects—not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues.’ 

Part of growing in humility involves what St Dorotheos of Gaza calls ‘self-accusation’. Self-accusation is a habit we can incorporate into our prayer life, in fact many of us already do by way of an examination of conscience. How often we find ways of justifying our pride and anger when our egos are wounded. We can be quick to accuse others of heterodoxy, viciousness, and sin in general without considering any unhelpful role we might have played in the creation of such conflicts. The cause of the disturbances we feel in such instances, says St Dorotheos, is ourselves. Often, we refuse to apologise to someone when we get angry, because the anger has made us feel justified. “They have made me act this way,” we think. Dorotheos says no, they just brought out the viciousness that was already within us, which we were too blind to see. We end up being just like the man who removes the splinter from his neighbour’s eye rather than the plank in his own (Matt 7:1-5). In cases like this, not only do we fail to consider that we may have done something to cause the unjust behaviour to which we think we have been subjected, we ‘correct’ our brother not in charity, or with humility knowing one’s own failings with the gentleness of the Lord, but with anger. We presume God’s mercy for ourselves and refuse it to our brother. Scripture reminds us of the dangers of throwing ourselves on God’s mercy whilst denying it to others (James 2:13, Romans 2 to mention but two). Humility begins then with a recognition of the right order of things. A friend once said to me ‘there is a God and I’m not him’; this message sums up humility. When we grasp this fact, we will live it.  

How often do we succumb to an intellectual arrogance, presuming we know the malicious intentions of others rather than taking the benign interpretation? Jesus calls us to cast ourselves down rather than to pull others down. If we set ourselves on a throne he will cast us from it, but if we lower ourselves to his feet, he will raise us. 

‘You must understand this, my beloved, let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore, rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with humility the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves’ (James 1:19-22).

When we experience the perfection of God in some way, we realise our own imperfections. It is with this awareness we abide in the presence of God or cry out, "Abba, Father. In calling out to God in this way, sometimes in a painful silence, conscious of our failures, we imitate our brother, Jesus Christ who himself was perfect and seeks to draw us back to right relationship with God by our conformity to him. Our justification though is not, as some would have it, a& one-off event. Rather, it is an ongoing process by which we must recognise there is a God and I'm not him, consenting to God's wisdom and participating in his grace. 

Lent is the perfect time to strengthen our resolve in practical ways such as through fasting, prayer, penance and almsgiving to participate in his grace and strip ourselves of distracting comforts. It is about getting to grips with the brutal reality of our mission and realising we have no crown but his - one that is made of thorns but is the crown of eternal life. We are encouraged to reveal ourselves as we truly are to him, to acknowledge our place in creation the place he has given to us.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt 11:29)

The difficult reality of following this Gospel, of course, is that when we accept humbly our state in life with its pains and burdens, the yoke to us often does not seem to be light. The passage does not end with simply taking the yoke and carrying our Cross with Christ. Accepting Christ’s yoke leads to a peace causing within us experiential knowledge. Through taking Christ’s yoke we learn something of what it means to be him. Our trials, temptations, and struggles in general, which we all inevitably go through in our own ways, give us opportunities to treat others with gentleness and humility. St. Therese writes ‘He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues.’

We were not created to be miserable, angry or bitter. Instead, we were made for holiness. By reordering our lives to face the Father, admittedly we can experience great loss as a consequence. We must remember, however, the profound paradox of our faith that he who loses his life for Christ, gains it in greater measure. 

Prayer begins with humility and culminates in our sainthood. 

Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion O.P.

Br Thomas Thérèse Mannion O.P.

Br Thomas Thérèse is a student brother in simple vows, born on the Wirral. He felt called to the priesthood at an early age. Before joining the Order, he was employed in the Archdiocese of Westminster as a Catechetical and Youth Coordinator. Whilst studying Theology at Heythrop College, University of London, he stumbled across the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist which lead him to discover the Friars of the English Province on YouTube. He entered the noviciate in 2016. He enjoys Ice Skating, History of the Papacy and the writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. | thomas.mannion@english.op.org


Anonymous commented on 22-Feb-2018 10:16 PM
Deo gratias

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