Chapter Talk – New Year’s Eve – December 31, 2021
The ‘new’ is already stirring, are we humble enough to perceive it inside and out? First in our immediate landscape, meaning within ourselves and within our sisters. Then the ‘new’ lingers well beyond us. The nature of God is love, which includes change, transformative change, and these grounded in humility.
The theme of Pope Francis’ talk given to the ‘Curia’ just before Christmas was ‘humility’. The ‘Curia’ is the working body of the Church. It is a large body, a large institution. We are a very small ‘ecclesia’ and still his words are as apropos for us. There is no encounter with God without humility. There is no ‘seeing’ the truth within and without where there is no humility. Why is this so? Humility creates space within for God’s silent voice to speak and be heard. Humility means we step aside, the ego consciously makes the choice to step aside and let God be in charge, taking the lead, guiding our way, breathing forth the words we are to speak. When we are in a conflict with someone, why is it so difficult to step back inside, and first face our own self-knowledge and conversion. Or what about those times when we need to make decisions: personal decisions, and community decisions? Without the attitude of humility perhaps our words are empty because we have not gone deep enough to be sure we are in synch with the Divine way and will.
As we stand at the threshold of this New Year why is such reflection so important? Here is what Pope Francis says in his December 23rd talk to the Roman Curia: “It is a moment of reflection and assessment for each of us, so that the light of the Word made flesh can show us even better who we are and what our mission is”. Sisters, ‘to see even better who we are and what our mission is’: what do we each need to do and what do we need to do as a community to more faithfully live this, our mission, and who we are becoming?
What Pope Francis refers to in this talk parallels what the early Cistercians wrote about: that is, the humility of God. To quote Guerric of Igny writing in the 12th century from one of his Christmas sermons: “Let us make our way to Bethlehem and let us look with all earnestness upon the Word which has been made flesh, the immense God who has been made a little one. In this visible and abbreviated Word we may learn the Wisdom of God which in its entirety has been made humility” (Sermon 10:4). Our lives are to be reflective of the Divine life and this becomes true when humility is the predominant inner stance of our lives. Pope Francis in this talk says: “It is not easy to understand what humility is. It is the effect of a change that the Spirit brings about in us in our daily lives”. When we ‘let go’ and surrender God can work…why then do we have to assert how ‘right’ I am and how wrong you are. The change is quiet, hidden but revealed in our demeanor and actions.
Let me continue with the Pope’s words: “Humility is the ability to know how to ‘inhabit’ our humanity, this humanity beloved and blessed by the Lord, and to do so without despair but with realism, joy and hope. Humility means recognizing that we should not be ashamed of our frailty”. Human ‘frailty’ is not just age related. This frailty, vulnerability, woundedness is endemic to our humanity. Think about it: perhaps this, our woundedness, is what sets us off on the journey that we are on.
If we reflect on what is the opposite of humility, ‘pride’, this will help us better understand the humble posture. Pride puffs up, the voice of pride is loud, so loud that there is no way the small still voice of the Spirit can be heard. Pride hardens the heart, pride closes off the wisdom of the heart. ‘Today, if you hear God’s voice harden not your hearts’ (Psalm 94). Humility rests in silence…it helps us hear and receive the truth in any given moment. The voice of pride is loud, the voice of humility is quiet.
More words from Pope Francis: “The humble…are those who are concerned not simply with the past, but also with the future, since they know how to look ahead, to spread their branches, remembering the past with gratitude. The humble give life, attract others and push onwards towards the unknown that lies ahead. The proud, on the other hand, simply repeat, grow rigid – rigidity is a perversion, a present day perversion – and enclose themselves in that repetition, feeling certain about what they know and fearful of anything new because they cannot control it; they feel destabilized…” Sisters, does this not show us the strength of a humble attitude? It is not fearful of what lies ahead because it places its trust fully in God. And prayer deepens this humble posture.
And these words: “The humble allow themselves to be challenged. They are open to what is new, since they feel secure in what has gone before them, firm in their roots and their sense of belonging. Their present is grounded in a past that opens them up to a hope-filled future.” Let us not forget these words: ‘the humble allow themselves to be challenged’. What happens interiorly when we are challenged. Notice how the prideful voice arises and gets louder and louder in defending ourselves or explaining ourselves and of course this spills out in our interactions.
The Pope says it will be difficult to be open to the Spirit “if we remain enclosed in our convictions and experiences,” enclosed “in the hard shell of our own thoughts and feelings”. Let us dare to let go of our convictions and abide in the humble space where the grace of an open heart and spirit will be bestowed upon us.
I pray for myself and for each of us that as we enter the New Year, we may be “evangelized by the humility of Christmas and the humility of the manger”. And this community, as well, may be evangelized, converted daily into the demeanor of Christ, which is one of humility and communion with the Spirit who breathes forth the will of God.