After each trip to places of crushing suffering, such as Uganda and Haiti, coming home is always a difficult transition for me to make. Going from extreme need to stunning abundance is jarring. In a land of plenty we hunger for more. We have turned greed into a virtue. Our lives are fragmented and disconnected. Television and the internet have turned our interior dwellings into shanty towns. Instead of looking in, they prompt us to look outward, and we become what we gaze upon. When praying, we turn away from ourselves and turn toward God. Long ago, in a remote village in the south of France, St. John Marie Vianney, known as the Curé of Ars and whose feast we celebrate today (8/4), noticed an old farmer who used to sit for hours in the humble, empty church. When the priest asked the farmer what he was doing, the farmer replied: “He looks at me and I look at him.” It really is that simple, but modern life is so connected to so much we are easily disconnected from the All. Contemplation cannot be relegated to some secluded corner of our life, dualistically existing apart from other tasks. Contemplation lives and breathes in the recognition of the divine possibility of the present moment.
How sad, how tragically sad, that we allow ourselves to ruled and controlled by our illusions and fears. And so we live much of our lives in a prison of falsity. This is not God’s plan for any of us. God wants us to know true peace and freedom. We were created in the image of God, which is to say we were created to mirror the love of the Trinity by giving ourselves away, for life to give life, for mercy to give mercy, for compassion to give compassion, for peace to give peace, for love to give love.
Because we do not know our real self, our true nature, we live in darkness and doubt. Conflicts haunt us. We feel threatened. And so we build walls around ourselves for protection. In the depths of our being we feel isolated, alone, naked. Joy is fleeting. Bitterness grows in our uncultivated garden starving for sunlight. The goodness and creativity of God is unknown, hidden, in part, by our own brokenness, our own weakness.
In the slums of the world, I saw more clearly my own weaknesses, and subsequently I slowly began to see the importance of humility. Only through humble eyes can God be seen. I am nothing; God is everything. But, in my nothingness, God gives me everything. Humility helps shatter illusions. Humility is the truest form of honesty. It sees our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Humility allows God to transform our weaknesses into strengths. As the opposite of pride, humility reflects honesty, a holistic sense of reality and a keen awareness of the awesomeness of the universe and the profound mystery of God. Growth in humility is a sign of maturing holiness. One of my dearest friends is an Orthodox monk and priest. He said, “Humility is honesty, is holiness. And it is only in humility that we can authentically meet God, on God’s terms. Humility is not a giving up, but rather, a giving in.” Humility is a pathway to prayer. Prayer is the doorway to the heart, the center of our being, the place where we can let go, let go of pretense, pride, ego and a host of things blocking us from the true source of life, the true source of love, God. In the innermost chamber of the heart we see the dissonance between the Spirit of God and our spirit; it is here we struggle to dissolve that disharmony. In the safety of the heart we can let go of fear and we can risk change. In the heart, conflict gives way to harmony. In the heart, what’s mine becomes God’s. In the heart, humility becomes holiness.