There are only a few times in my life in which I have willingly invited myself into poverty. Even when we lost everything in Hurricane Katrina, I still grasped for all things. I remember immediately venturing into a store to purchase baby clothes, wash cloths, and kitchen towels so that I might adequately care for my family.
There exist far fewer times in which I released my grip on power and things to invite poverty into my life. I consider moments of severe sickness in my family in which all power or control faded away. I think, too, of my children as they have grown into women and how I am releasing control of decisions in their lives. My life has mostly been, though, about control over my environment. We are taught to grow our lives, build a family, a home, and successful careers. Seeking security, we even teach our children to do the same.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to consider humility, the opposite of security. Humility is complicated. Often, we reduce humility to thinking less of ourselves, but humility is so much more than this. I once had a beautiful sister tell me that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. Humility is a posture that imitates Christ. Even at his conception, born to a poor girl in a manger, Jesus chose poverty. Mary and Joseph lacked power and wealth. Jesus grew into a young man and humbled himself at the beginning of his ministry choosing to be baptized by John. John says to Jesus:
“I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?” Jesus said to him in reply, “Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” (Matthew 3:14-15).
Jesus bows his head to John, allowing him to baptize him.
He continues in his ministry of curing the diseased, possessed, mentally ill, and paralytic (Matthew 4:25). He could have climbed the highest throne, but instead resides with the weak and powerless. He stands on the Mount and explicitly teaches poverty,
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land (Matthew 5: 3-5).
He stands with those who commit adultery as well as people with various sins. He teaches using parables, inviting his followers to stand on their head and see the whole world upside down, stripping his followers of comfort and power. He then completes his life on earth, abandoned by friends and humiliated, publicly choosing death on a cross.
To love Jesus is to know that he swims in humility. To follow Jesus and call ourselves Christians is to be willing to venture into the pool of humility where we forfeit power, control, money, and all the comforts of life. Knowing this, St. Ignatius invites retreatants near the middle of the Spiritual Exercises to consider humility. If we are to take on the name Christian and follow Christ, we must consider the posture in which he stands and actually follow.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us into an ever-deepening understanding of humility (#165-167). Initial humility is a simple invitation to follow the commandments Jesus has provided (#165). Even though this might seem “simple,” following the teachings he has set encourages what modern life might call “radical actions” like meekness and visiting the imprisoned.
The “second kind of humility” invites us to detach from riches and honor. St. Ignatius invites the retreatant into “spiritual indifference”—indifference to wealth, poverty, honor, dishonor, short life, and long life (#166). We are to detach from our need to be wealthy, honored, and even alive! St. Ignatius invites us to begin placing our lives literally into the hands of God who will do with it what God chooses.
The “third kind of humility” dives even deeper into humility, encouraging imitation of Christ in actively choosing poverty and humiliation with Christ. St. Ignatius invites us to become a “fool for Christ” (#167). We are invited to stand with the poor and the humiliated. We are to stand with those who lack food and housing. We are invited to stand with those who have sinned and experienced public humiliation in their lives—even at the water coolers of our workplaces. We are called to intentionally schedule times to feed the poor, visit the imprisoned, and support the helpless.
This is a radical prayer– the journey into humility is a lifelong prayer that many of us will walk for the rest of our lives to varying degrees. Even as I sit now discerning finances for my soon-to-be two college students household, I look to Christ and ask for humility. How do we live simply so that others might live, Christ? Teach me Christ to give it all to you. How do we serve you God as a family seeking to use the gifts you make manifest in us so that you are known? Teach us humility, Christ.
One way to remind ourselves of this journey into humility is to pray the Suscipe, a prayer created by St. Ignatius. Some have called this prayer “The Radical Prayer” or “The Most Dangerous Prayer”. I invite you to pray it if you dare:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
- Consider reading more on humilty here:
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