In his recent pastoral letter on restructuring Bishop John Arnold talks twice about restructuring as an opportunity for us to think carefully about caring for one another both within and beyond our communities.
“I firmly believe that this re-structure will strengthen us all for our missionary purpose of bringing Christ to the world in which we live, both in the care we have for one another within our own communities and in the witness we show through our Works of Mercy in the wider community.”
“In the busy secularisation of our world, many have drifted away but, if we are persistent and constant in our living of the Gospel, in our kindness and care for those around us in need, then people will be drawn back with a new sense of searching and commitment. Pope Francis asks us if we have the courage to walk with others, even while they are walking away from the Church? I believe we have.”
These words brought to mind a homily we experienced earlier this year in North America.
It was the small and insignificant township of Cheteck in Northern Minnesota but we had a good homily on humility which I thought was particularly apposite in the context of what we are trying to do by way of developing our Parish community. It’s easy to think we have a good community and easy to think we have little to learn, yet to become a better community and a welcoming community we need to do more. Humility it seems is the first step.
We were told that that there were three ingredients to humility:
- Not thinking first and foremost about ourselves and wanting to be the focus of attention
- Acknowledging and complimenting others
- Thinking about others and being aware of their needs
As we move into the final weeks of the Year of Mercy we should shift our thoughts from God’s mercy and ourselves to our mercy toward others – and the key to that is humility.
It was a simple enough message but presented in such a way that made it clear that humility shouldn’t just be one of a number of virtues to practice, it is at the core of our faith. It is charity. So what specifically did our priest in Chetek have to say about his three ingredients of humility?
Not thinking first and foremost about ourselves Many people tend to talk rather than listen but humility should temper this inclination. Our priest didn’t dwell too long on this one but what he said later led me to quiz him more closely over coffee and pancakes. His thinking was much influenced by Francis de Sales and a particular theme was giving, or being the recipient of, hurt or offence. I looked up the relevant quotes later. They are instructive: “Be very watchful as to what can give offence to others; if you fail in this, try to repair the mischief as quickly as possible.” But a great quote that covers it all is: “It is a great degree of lowliness of heart …to fear honours and flattery as much as little minds enjoy them, who easily take offence at any affront.” How often does a lack of humility make us focus on ourselves and our discomfort when someone praises us? It struck me that humility has its greatest test when someone is offended by what we do or say; or when we are offended by them.
Acknowledging and complimenting others was the second point. Humility should teach us to acknowledge praise graciously. Just as we should graciously acknowledge a compliment, so should we look outwardly to others rather than to ourselves and recognise and acknowledge them. But the key to it all is whether we think foremost about our ourselves or others. If the heart is pure, so too will be the acknowledgement and we will learn to tread carefully the fine line between praise and flattery.
Thinking about others and being aware of their needs was the third and final point which extended and embraced the other two. It is easiest to start with the people we know and like but we should think of all others and not just those closest and those we feel most comfortable with. We should think of those we don’t know particularly well or don’t particularly like and reflect on whether perhaps a lack of humility has failed us.
So as we enter the last few weeks of the Year of Mercy and as we think about developing a welcoming Parish community it occurred to me that we might see humility as a good starting point. Let’s learn something from Francis de Sales and build the sort of community that doesn’t have to contrive methods or models of welcoming because welcoming is what comes naturally to us.