An unfortunate trend these days is the need to be known. With the rise of social media we are aware that some folks are willing to do all sorts of things in order to be noticed, often desiring to become instantly famous. Some of it seems quite harmless, but there is a great danger here. As Christians we remember that Jesus taught His disciples to serve humbly, which means that our intention should be for our good deeds to be done in a hidden way. Clearly, social media does not encourage humility, and while there are some celebrities who do manage to live humbly, it is quite difficult to avoid getting caught up in what can become an addiction to attention. Interestingly, humble ones sometimes do find themselves in a ‘spotlight’ that they have not sought. This is true of many of the saints who only desired to serve Jesus yet ended up catching the attention of those around them. For the holy, fame is unattractive; they put no small effort into avoiding it since they recognize it as both a temptation and a distraction from the path of humility. Therefore, if we desire to grow in holiness, it is this path, the path of humility, upon which we should set our sights.
The need to be known usually stems from the need to be validated. The saints were not immune to this condition, but rather, they allowed God to form them by letting go of self as they immersed themselves in Him. A great example of this is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897) who was incredibly self-centered as a child, but overcame it with the help of grace. She struggled with the need to be the center of attention, but the turning point came through some overheard comments made by her father one Christmas; it stung deeply, but in that moment she surrendered all of her desires to the Lord completely. Thérèse went on to enter the Carmelites at 15, leading a hidden life of service through prayer. In one of the most important moments of her religious life, she realized that her vocation was love, a recognition which moved her to work at perfecting her love by perfecting her humility. If not for her Superior recognizing her holiness and requiring her to write her autobiography, St. Thérèse would have died in total obscurity. Today she is one of the most beloved of all the Saints.
We can see that part of what makes one holy is humility, and while there are many such holy people, our focus will be limited to two other Saints, each of whom lived in different centuries, but whose lives bear striking similarities. First is St. Alphonsus Rodriquez (1533-1617) who touched many lives as he happily did menial work. Early in his life St. Alphonsus suffered greatly; he had been married, but lost his wife, three children, and his business all in a short period of time. A few years later when he desired to enter the Jesuits as a priest, he was considered unsuitable. However, instead of succumbing to disappointment, he became a brother and embraced life as a humble doorkeeper at the Jesuit college in Majorca, finding joy in serving those he encountered. Similarly, St. André Bessette (1845-1937) entered the Congregation of Holy Cross as a brother rather than as a priest due to poor health and poor education. He, too, overcame disappointment, and joyfully spent his life as a porter at Notre Dame College in Montreal. St. André became known for his healing prayers which drew many people to seek out this ‘lowly’ doorkeeper.
All three of these saints would have remained hidden, one as an obscure nun, and two as lowly doorkeepers, except that God wanted others to know about them so that they could touch lives and inspire humility. What is most important is the source of their love: Jesus. He taught His disciples the way of love through His words and deeds, even humbly suffering and dying out of love for us. As St. Paul wrote, in pouring Himself out the act of love is so immense and extravagant that at the name of Jesus Christ every knee must bow. (Philippians 2:1-11) Through Jesus’ great act of humility we are immersed into the Heart of the Lord who is Love. We learn two important lessons from this: first, that humility is an expression of love, and second, that the most loving acts are those that cannot be repaid. Thus, the path of humility and the path of love are one.* If we desire to travel this path, to grow in holiness through humility, we must put the gospel of Jesus into action in a real and tangible way.
It is important for us to examine our actions and our consciousness daily to uncover which areas are wounded, where we have perceived ourselves to be less than we are, that which discourages us from service, or what fuels a desire for recognition.** To grow in love of others we have to grow in true love of self, which means to see ourselves as we really are; that is, to see ourselves as God does. Once we can accept ourselves as who we are and we are able to let the Holy Spirit work within us, we will have the freedom to express our love through humility. To the humble, everyone around them is seen as Christ, the Beloved whom they want to serve with all their heart.*** Let us seek to grow in humility, and therefore in love, walking the path which is the very same one upon which Jesus walks.
May we ask for the grace to walk the path of humility! May we be inspired by the saints who walked this path! And may we examine our consciousness daily so we might grow into the holy ones we are intended to be! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* See another wonderful passage from St. Paul in which he sums up what love is, 1 Corinthians 13. In verses 4 and 5 he indicates that love seeks no reward: love is humble.
** One of the best methods for this is the Examen written by St. Ignatius Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises.
*** The mistake many make is to think that to be humble we need to abase ourselves or see everyone else as better than we are. That is totally false. To be humble is to see oneself as God does, that is, with love and mercy, and as we look outward at others, to see them as Christ.
-The autobiography of St. Thérèse is called The Story of A Soul. The Christmas incident took place in 1886 and is described in Chapter 5; she called it the “Grace of Christmas.”
-If you are interested in more on St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ you can go to https://www.jesuits.global/saint-blessed/saint-alphonsus-rodriguez/
Also, here is a link in which the author says, "Here is perhaps the humblest, meekest, most unpresuming saint ever! He embodies one of my favorite quotes from the Psalms: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:10.
After this is a beautiful poem written about St. Alphonsus by Gerard Manley Hopkins, (one of my favorite poets): https://carinyademaria.wordpress.com/2014/10/29/saint-of-the-day-alphonsus-rodriguez/
-The comment on St. Alphonsus and Psalm 84 can be applied to St. André Bessette, too: https://holycrosscongregation.org/holy-ones/st-andre-bessette/
1. Photo taken by my husband: with our guide while hiking a path on the north side of Mt. Etna. (That's me behind the guide.) Sicily, Italy.
2. My photo of an original photo of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. (She is holding a card with the images that reflect her name in religious life: Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.) I took this photo at an exhibition at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
3. Image, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ, artist unknown.
4. Painting, Pond in Sunbeams 2019, by Aleksandr Dubrovsky.
5. Photo, St. André Bessette, CSC (Holy Cross community photographer)
6. Icon, Our Lady of Silence, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. To be silent and listen is an act of humility. If you are interested you can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/our-lady-of-silence-william-hart-mcnichols.html
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart