Fourth Sunday of Advent Reflection: Humility and Our Search For Favour
Franciscan Reflections From The Hermitage – Humility And Our Search For Favour – Fourth Sunday of Advent – Luke 1: 26-38
Every time, every single time… those I have known who have given up on family, and community, given up on religious life, given up on their faith, and followed by giving up on God… one common characteristic in every case… they were all fervent in their endeavour to win God’s favour… driven, severe, and obsessive in the desire to earn and to win God’s favour. Grace is on the back foot in this singular ambition that follows the path of Abel.
Here the reflected the words of Yeates in his Easter poem of 1916: ‘Too long a sacrifice Can make a stone of the heart. O when may it suffice? That is Heaven’s part, our part To murmur name upon name, as a mother names her child when sleep, at last, has come on limbs that had run wild.’
This ambition is the way of the world… with pride and confidence, with strength and control… that great drive and ambition to win, to earn favour, to be on top, and to be first.
The gospel today gives us another way. The example of a young girl whom God calls most highly favoured! What an acclamation. This is Mary the mother of Jesus. This is the woman celebrated by God as filled with grace, blessed, and humble.
Many may be indignant against such honour and prestige celebrated in another created person, may even seek ways of belittling such honour and prestige in the daughters of Mary… yet dare we show any less honour than God?
Mary has become the most influential woman in the world… She is known in every country on earth and hundreds of millions of people flock to her shines every year to entreat her intercession as a mother, carrying her symbol with them as a reminder of a mother’s love. No other figure in history has been more portrayed in art, literature, and music.
Our Western culture underrates and dismisses humility as an archaic religious artefact. We pay lip service to honour the peacemakers, but our true heroes are the warriors and celebrities, those irreverent idols, self-important and narcissistic. Just like at the inn, there is no place here for humility.
Humility requires that we give up certain self-aggrandising thought patterns, reflexes, and behaviours. Humility is a kind of liberation, a paradoxical state of freedom from the culturally imposed norms of narcissistic ‘me-first’ thinking. This competitive reflex is the preconscious, visceral impulse to oppose or outdo others, or to auto-react against perceived threats to one’s established sense of ‘self’.
So, how do I free myself from the competitive reflex? This requires, first, that I recognise the reflex when it arises in me… and second, that I choose a more varied response. I must become aware of the competitive reflex in myself. Most high glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart!
Identify the ‘triggers’ for the behaviour that you identify and want to change. Do you find yourself publicly demeaning others, screaming and threatening those whom you perceive to be dishonouring you, and walking out of dinners and parties because you feel insulted? Perhaps you find yourself continually belittling the experience of others… ‘yes, but when I…’
A well-developed sense of humility shines through in our behaviour toward others. They feel affirmed, appreciated, encouraged, validated, and psychically nourished.
For me, this is most perfectly represented in Mary the mother of Jesus who finally stands at the cross of her murdered son. Rather than railing against the evil of the world of wailing in horror, she quietly stands her ground when others have deserted and becomes for us an example of strength, humility, and perseverance. Mary is indeed God’s most highly favoured one, ‘full of grace, most blessed among all woman and a humble servant’. This is God’s gift to us, his own mother, and most highly favoured one, to be our mother also.
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