The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Humble, 'umble, Stumble, Tumble

These are the four degrees of "humbleness," according to Mary Thorne, the heroine of Anthony Trollope's Doctor Thorne. Mary is, of course, playing off the insincere, fake humility of Uriah Heep in Dickens' 1850 David Copperfield, which antedated Doctor Thorne by eight years. Humbleness, as practiced by Uriah Heep and mocked by Mary Thorne is what I thought of on reading Cardinal Roger Mahoney's blog entry, "Called to Humiliation":
From our earliest catechism days we learn about the virtue of humility. We study it, we think about it; but we don't embrace it.

And why? Because humility is all about self-effacing, about seeing ourselves as far more diminished than we had hoped. As a result, few of us set out to embrace humility for Lent or as a pattern for our lives. Most us us accept a few affronts and neglects as humility, and then move on.

But as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are actually called to the fullness of humility: humiliation, and publicly.

Today's Gospel gives us the stark reality and immediate challenge: "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." {Luke 9:23] Daily means each and every day, not now and then on our faith journeys, and on our terms.
Given all of the storms that have surrounded me and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles recently, God's grace finally helped me to understand: I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility. Rather, I am being called to something deeper--to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many.

I was not ready for this challenge. Ash Wednesday changed all of that, and I see Lent 2013 as a special time to reflect deeply upon this special call by Jesus.

To be honest with you, I have not reached the point where I can actually pray for more humiliation. I'm only at the stage of asking for the grace to endure the level of humiliation at the moment.

In the past several days, I have experienced many examples of being humiliated. In recent days, I have been confronted in various places by very unhappy people. I could understand the depth of their anger and outrage--at me, at the Church, at about injustices that swirl around us.

Thanks to God's special grace, I simply stood there, asking God to bless and forgive them.
Cardinal Mahoney adds "[s]trangely, the more I allow all of this to unfold without protest and objection, the greater the inner peace I feel." In a subsequent blog post, he quotes St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises, which deserve better, on the three kinds of humility. Cardinal Mahony writes that the third kind, the "most perfect kind of humility,"
is truly a call to humiliation, more than to humility. With this kind, Ignatius raises the bar considerably. He moves from the verb "desire" in the first two kinds, to "desire and choose" in the third kind. In past years I can't recall myself desiring and choosing:

* poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches;

* insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors;

* worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent.

But through God's grace, I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem.
Where to begin with this? Well, I think Andrew Sullivan makes the first point, writing "He is forgiving the victims of child-rape, and those who speak up for them? Words fail. Anger overwhelms me." Yeah, that's a good start.

I think that doesn't address the deeper issue raised by Cardinal Mahony's posts. Mahoney's encounters with hostile members of the public isn't an Ignatian exercise of seeking to deliberately identify with Christ, and being "fool for Christ." It's an entirely predictable reaction to and result of his own malfeasance and nonfeasance. Being a fool for Christ is, in Ignatian thought, part of the larger exercise of modeling one's own life on Christ, "in all that we do, and in the choices we make." Provoking the entirely understandable and well-founded anger of those wronged by one's own misdeeds is not, with all respect, this. I don't mean to justify any cruelty toward the Cardinal on the part of his interlocutors, but to point out that the decisions that have led to this hostility were not those Christ, who warned of dire consequences to those who "should offend one of these little ones."

I am sure Cardinal Mahony's loss of honor is excruciating. I can find it in my heart to pity him. But this isn't a story of his ongoing discipleship; it's the result of his betrayal of that discipleship. And Cardinal Mahony's efforts to make it an edifying tale of his own mystical journey suggests that he is not in touch with reality, but has strayed into the land of fiction, with Uriah Heep as his guide.

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