The Hard Thing About Humility

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

Since the official date of Mother Teresa’s canonization has been announced, I want to look into her insights on humility today.

Practicing humility is not an easy feat. It’s one thing to imagine the concept of humility, but actually living it out is hard.

“These are the few ways we can practice humility:

To speak as little as possible of one’s self.”

In this social media-saturated world, we always love to talk about ourselves. It can be as vague as a passive-aggressive Facebook status or as blatant as a duckface selfie. I’m not immune to this given that part of my job involves promoting myself. It’s one thing to promote one’s work out of necessity. We all have to make a living somehow. But when your conversations consist of constant whining or bragging about your accomplishments, you have little room in your heart for anything else.

Since we’re close to Holy Week, if you’re gonna spend time on social media, I hope that you can contribute more positive things to your feed instead of another selfie.

 

“To mind one’s own business.”

When we’re not talking about ourselves, America’s actual favorite pastime is gossip. It’s basically the only reason why anyone knows who Kim Kardashian is. I love learning the latest news in regards to my favorite actors and singers, but I try my best to limit things. I think this also applies to people who get too involved in political debates and office gossip.

Pope Francis had some harsh words to say about gossiping. His words are harsh and blunt, I know. But try going a day without gossiping and see what a difference it can make in your life.

 

“Not to want to manage other people’s affairs.”

How often do we try to micromanage other people’s lives? How often do we act like we’re somebody’s mother in the worst way possible through constant nagging and unsolicited advice? Unless we are given actual positions of authority, intervening in other people’s lives is usually best reserved for emergency situations.

It’s okay to give advice if you are asked and if you feel like you can give a sound answer. But what’s more important is to listen intently. You’d be surprised at how things can change when you actually listen to others.

 

“To avoid curiosity.”

This one is especially hard for me. I was given insatiable curiosity from the time I learned how to read. I always want to know the story behind something. But I understand why curiosity can be a bad thing. Not all information out there is worth knowing about. There are things people do behind closed doors that I’d rather be blissfully unaware of. Insatiable curiosity can open up the door to temptation.

Avoiding curiosity doesn’t mean to close yourself off from current events, though. It just means knowing that there are limits to what you already know and trying not to overload yourself with too much information. The main villain in Avengers: Age of Ultron became arrogant because of all the knowledge he gained and saw destroying the world as the best way to maintain order. Vision stood as a contrast to Ultron because he’s aware of his own limits.

 

“To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.”

As a writer, it was really hard for me to accept criticism, even of the constructive kind. Writing this blog has helped to an extent, but I’m still learning how to take the feedback I get from comments and other writers. I really appreciate my local writing group because we’ve worked out a way to give feedback that mixes positive remarks with things that we all need to improve on.

 

“To pass over the mistakes of others.”

It’s not easy to overlook people’s little faults. It’s also not easy to look at the latest Buzzfeed article and wonder “where the hell do they find these people?”

This does not mean to excuse abusive behavior or just let bad things slide. I choose to interpret this idea as choosing what to get angry about. We can’t fix every little flaw in every person we see.

I totally get that “Judge not” gets taken out of context a lot. But the best way to actually practice the act of admonishing others while still being humble is to meet people where they are and treat them as friends, not as projects.

 

“To accept insults and injuries.”

Scroll around the internet long enough and you’ll probably find something insulting the Catholic Church. It’s even worse when people who claim to be Catholic insult other Catholics and injure others with their words or actions. Mother Teresa dealt with her own share of insults and injuries, but she never took them lying down. She always responded with a firm voice and a bit of sass for good measure. If you don’t believe me, there’s a story about her in Catholicism in which she tries getting some food for a poor child only to be met with a baker spitting in her face. She responded with “Thanks for the nice gift, now how about something for the child?”

 

“To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.”

Dear Aaron Burr should’ve learned a bit about dealing with always coming short of Hamilton’s success. Hamilton himself was almost lost to history, forgotten because of what the other Founding Fathers said about him. I also dealt with my share of being overlooked. But the thing is that we can’t take neglect personally. When one door closes, another opportunity comes around soon enough.

Whenever I serve on retreat, I go there knowing that I probably won’t be acknowledged for the work that I’ve done. But I see the results of my generosity whenever the retreaters talk about how much fun they had at the end. It’s enough for me to know that I helped contribute to their happiness.

 

“To be kind and gentle even under provocation.”

It’s really hard to maintain a kind attitude when people are acting nasty. I have no idea how these riots at Trump’s rallies happen and yet you’d think that a presidential candidate would discourage that kind of behavior. But if I could say something to Trump supporters, it would be this: If you really want to make America great again, try practicing kindness and actual generosity to those you don’t like.

 

“Never to stand on one’s dignity.”

There’s a line from a song in Rent that goes “Will I lose my dignity?” It’s part of a round that asks about the uncertainties of life. In a musical where the majority of characters suffer from AIDS, that question is a legitimate one. And yet, in the musical, we see all the characters lose their dignity in some way. In spite of that, the seven friends are able to find happiness. It just took them a long time to get there.

 

“To choose always the hardest.”

It’s hard to be humble. It’s hard to do all the things that Mother Teresa has listed here. But as my favorite TV show has said “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.”

I hope that you take the time to reflect on the idea of humility and that you can practice humility in your lives.

7 Quick Takes on Seven Saints for 2016

 

 

One tradition that Catholics have in the new year is that they pick a saint to be their patron for the year. Usually, it’s done using Jennifer Fulwiler’s Saint Generator. However, one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get to know more than one saint. So for today, I’m gonna do a Seven Quick Takes on seven saints that I want to get to know this year.

 

— 1 —

Lille_Hospice_comt_Vuez_Ste_Zite

The Saint Generator gave me Saint Zita. I first read about her in an A-Z book of saints from my local library. Saint Zita is the patron saint of homemakers, housekeepers, servants, domestic workers, etc. Basically, she’s the patron saint for the downstairs half of Downton Abbey. She was born in Lucca, Italy around the time that Saint Francis was beginning his ministry, so it’s no surprise that she dedicated her life to helping the poor, sick, and imprisoned. It’s not certain whether she was married, but she didn’t enter a religious order either, so she’s a great saint for single women who work on the grind. Plus, if you ever have to deal with flack from co-workers, Zita understands that struggle all to well, so ask for the patience that she had with her fellow servants.

Also, she’s one of the incorrupt saints. That’s something I consider majorly cool.

— 2 —

Teresa_of_Avila_dsc01644

Another saint that I want to get to know this year is Saint Teresa of Avila. She was the Teresa that inspired St. Therese of Lisieux and helped reform the Carmelite Order. I’m reading bits and pieces of her autobiography, The Way of Perfection, and The Interior Castle. I love how she describes the soul as a castle made out of a single diamond with many rooms inside. I feel like that’s how I see my own identity. I also love her prayer of “Let Nothing Disturb You” because it feels more like a meditation or a grounding mantra. Just thinking of it right now makes me feel at ease.

— 3 —

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

I’ve already written about Mother Teresa, so without repeating myself, I just want to say that out of all the saints I’ve been reading and admiring, Mother Teresa is the one that I want to emulate the most. I want to be able to go out into the world and show God’s compassion to everyone, regardless of whatever faith or social class they’re in. I want to have her compassion for the sick, the poor, the dying, as well as for those who are spiritually bankrupt. I hope I get to watch her canonization in September.

— 4 —

Giovanni_Battista_Pittoni_-_The_Penitent_Magdalene_-_WGA17973

Mary Magdalene continues to be an enigma for me, even with the headcanons that I have for her. But instead of trying to speculate over who she was, I’m gonna start by going with what I do know. She was a Jewish woman. She was a leader amongst the disciples, especially with the female faction. She had seven demons exorcised out of her. She was there for Jesus during his crucifixion, burial, and was the first to see Him in his resurrection.

Many saints looked to her as a model for constant penitence because of her reputation as a fallen woman. She can be seen in a feminist subtext as someone who stood out amongst the norm by being a female leader without any husband with her. But what I admire most about Mary Magdalene is her loyalty. To stay with a friend when everyone else has gone away, to watch them die…It takes a lot of courage and loyalty. It’s that kind of loyalty and faithfulness to Jesus that I want to emulate.

— 5 —

JohannesPaul2-portrait

Even though I learned a lot about the life of Saint John Paul II, I’ve only skimmed the surface when it comes to his writings. One book that I want to read this year is Theology of the Body. I found a copy at my local secondhand bookstore (best place to find almost anything really) and I have other books that give commentary on the Theology of the Body. Since it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be going to Poland for World Youth Day (unless I win the lottery), I want to get to know the wisdom of this particular saint.

— 6 —

Caspar_Jele_-_Josef_mit_Jesusknabe

For the past week or so, I’ve been praying the 30-Day Saint Joseph Holy Cloak Novena. It’s a long one, but I’ve already experienced some great graces from praying this. And given how I credit Saint Joseph for helping me out during my Lenten retreat last year, I have faith that he will help me out with whatever I decide to do this coming spring. He’s also been a big help when it comes to my writing, which I consider to be both my work and my passion.

 

— 7 —

Perpetual_help_original_icon

 

I think everyone out there has a favorite Marian title. Our Lady of Perpetual Help has been with me ever since I was a kid, when I went to a school that bore her name. The school has closed down, but the church is still there and it hasn’t changed much since I last saw it. But I want to know more of the devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help beyond the image I’ve seen throughout my life. I learned that it has Czech origins, but nothing beyond that.

 

So those are my 7 Saints for 2016. Feel free to comment about which saints or devotions you feel like focusing on this year!

Women of Christ Wednesday: Mother Teresa, a Saint for the Millenials

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

Mother Teresa was someone I knew ever since I was a kid. I didn’t get to see her in action because she died around the same time I was old enough to receive first communion, but her legacy lives on in the Missionaries of Charity. I’ve mentioned before that I kind of fangirl whenever I see sisters wearing the blue and white habits because to me, they represent Mother Teresa.

In contrast to certain other people who claim to preach God’s word while their actions indicate otherwise, Mother Teresa serves as a great example of how the Catholic faith is lived out. In Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly shares an anecdote from Jim Castle, who encountered Mother Teresa on a flight from Ohio to Kansas. Jim prayed the Rosary with the soon-to-be saint and when the flight was over, she gave him her Rosary. Praying the Rosary led to many graces for Jim and his friends and family, but it never would’ve happened if Mother Teresa didn’t take that opportunity to evangelize. Her evangelization was simple: sharing a moment of prayer with a stranger. It’s definitely something to think about. Times that we would perceive as being inconvenient (long flights, commutes to work) can easily be opportunities for prayer and evangelization if we’re open to that possibility.

Another way that Mother Teresa seems to be a great saint for this modern age is her struggles with staying true to God. I’m currently reading her autobiography Come Be My Light and I’m already finding myself relating a lot to her spiritual journey. Creating her own order wasn’t an easy task, nor was organizing the Missionaries once the group was established. But as Bishop Robert Barron pointed out, what makes Mother Teresa stand out the most is how she endured the darkness inside of herself.

So many people think that religion and spirituality are supposed to be “feel good” things. In reality, to use a very millenial hashtag, #thestruggleisreal. It’s a constant struggle to stay true to God’s will. What made Mother Teresa extraordinary was that she kept on living her vocation in spite of what she felt. And up until recently, very few people knew of the struggle she lived with throughout most of her life.

There are a lot of other things that Mother Teresa taught me. They’re mostly little things. But my favorite thing from her is the “I Thirst” meditation.

The word “thirst” is also something that gets used a lot in millenial slang. When a millenial says that “the thirst is real” or someone is “thirsty,” they usually refer to someone being desperate for affection. Mother Teresa, however, understands that the thirst that we have for love is a reflection of Jesus thirsting for our love.

Mother Teresa is one saint that I want to model in my life and I can’t wait for her canonization!

Lent Day 18: Saints Past and Present

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lenten Meditation goes into the diversity of the saints. Despite what you may think, given the flatness of the stained glass windows, saints are not cookie cutter clones. The saints in Heaven are as varied as the flowers on earth. St. Therese of Lisieux says this a lot better, though:

“I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our lord’s living garden.”

Here’s something I bet you never thought about: YOU are called to become a saint!

“But I can’t be a saint!” you say. “I’d have to be a priest or a nun or something like that.”

Ever heard of St. Gianna? 20th Century saint (as in born in the 1900s) who lived a life as a mother and doctor who decided to have her 4th child in spite of the fact that it could possibly kill her. (Pro-Life feminist FTW!) Or St. Pier Giorgio Frassati, a man who never married but spent his life taking care of the poor who lived in his town with his parents having no idea about what he was doing aside from the fact that he spent a lot of time in prayer.

“But those were great people!” you say. “I could never do miracles, give my life up like that, or serve the poor like they did.”

Mother Teresa said:

Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

“How the heck can I become a saint?” you ask.

It starts with being yourself. God isn’t asking you to be exactly like any of the saints you may have heard about, but you can learn more about the saints this Lent and figure out who you find yourself relating to. However, I want to challenge you to find a saint that’s the complete opposite of you and find out what you can learn from them.

Here’s an example from me. My top 5 saints (in no particular order) are: St. Monica, St. Therese, St. Thomas Aquinas, Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and St. Joan of Arc.

Like St. Monica, I’ve had my share of bad relationships. Like St. Therese, I prefer a simple life and have a great inner life. But as far as the other 3 saints are concerned, they all have something I wish I had in myself. I love St. Thomas Aquinas’s intellect and would give my pinkie toe to spend a day with him, talking about the Summa. Also, St. Thomas Aquinas was the one who wrote my favorite Latin song, the Tantum Ergo. Venerable Fulton Sheen brought Catholicism to the mainstream media through his TV show and I want to do what he did someday. And I long for St. Joan’s courage to stand up for my faith. The closest thing I got to being like St. Joan of Arc was acting as her in a monologue for a college drama class.

Look at modern examples of wonderful, holy people who aspire to be saints right now. Look at what Pope Francis does and not just what the media says about him. Or look at what Sister Cristina is doing on The Voice. By putting herself out there in the Italian mainstream media, she is representing nuns everywhere. Check out Audrey Assad and Matt Maher for modern examples of Catholics who are living their faith doing what they love. Or if you’re more of a bookworm, check out Mark Hart the Bible Geek or Brandon Vogt or the numerous Catholic apologists like Peter Kreeft or GK Chesterton. (BTW: Pray for GK Chesterton’s intercessions because he would make a seriously awesome saint.)

And if the idea of sainthood still intimidates you, you’re not alone. Listen to Danielle Rose’s “The Saint that is Just Me.” Danielle Rose, a Catholic singer, discerned religious life for a while, but after spending a few years in the convent, she learned that it wasn’t her calling. She now works in an orphanage in China, but she also has an album out, which you can check out at her website.

tl;dr: Be holy and sainthood will follow eventually.

Lent Day 4: Joy and Fear

Fr. Robert Barron’s Lent Reflection focuses on an extraordinary woman named Mother Teresa, who lived out the joy of her mission of caring for the poorest of the poor. Fr. Barron says in his reflection that we all want joy. According to Aristotle, mankind’s ultimate end is to find happiness. However, we make the mistake of trying to fill up that missing part of ourselves.

My friend Joseph makes a case for this on his Lent reflection.

With the popularization of things like Facebook, Snapchat, and vlogging, one could make the case that today’s generation has become one of the most self-absorbed and self-centered generations of all time.

But I don’t think that’s really the point. And I would argue that my generation doesn’t exactly deserve that kind of criticism. I think the point is that we seem to be living in a culture that constantly promotes the fear of being forgotten.

Here comes the paradox of Mother Teresa’s lifestyle. The reason she is remembered is not because she actively sought attention for herself, but because she focused on giving her time and effort towards helping others. The joy of her calling is easy to see if you’ve ever seen pictures of her. Even when she was in a period of total darkness, nobody could tell because she made the best of that horrible situation by emptying herself more.

My photo today is of a gift my brother got me at SXSW. It’s a Companion Cube! In the end of Portal 2, it was GLADOS’s sign of good faith to Chell that (unless Portal 3 is created) GLADOS won’t try and get Chell ever again after Chell finally gets out of the Aperture Science labs. This has nothing to do with what I posted earlier, but I did promise that I would show what I picked for my 365grateful project and I’m gonna hold myself to it.

Image

Four Loves Friday: Agape AKA Charity

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

The last section of CS Lewis’s The Four Loves brings in a form of love that goes beyond the natural loves of Affection, Friendship, and Eros. The difference of life with three of the four loves but no agape and life with all four loves is the difference between a garden and a wilderness, according to Lewis. He also emphasizes that the three previous loves are not rivals to God’s love (Agape) in and of themselves. The way that the rivalry was created was when we put the three loves ahead of Agape, an idolization of them if you will.

Think of it this way: it’s harder to find works in media that portray selfless love. Eros is easy to find, due to our hypersexualized culture. Agape is stuff saved for Oscar movies or movies that want to get Oscars. It’s harder to find in the everyday life, partially because of how selfish and skeptical the culture is. We often scoff at the “Christ” metaphors in superhero movies such as Man of Steel, we often question a celebrity’s altruistic motives, and while we all love A Christmas Carol, our minds cling to the image of the miserly version of Scrooge rather than the changed man he became in the end.

But does being selfish and skeptical really benefit society and ourselves in the long run? To make a long answer short: NO! 

No matter how hard we try to pride ourselves as an intellectual society, the fact of the matter is that we are a culture that follows our passions. Human beings can’t cut themselves off from emotion unless they want to be labeled as a “sociopath.” There’s no such thing as being “incapable of loving” because even the worst of humanity has something or someone that they love.

This is also the most theologically centered chapter of the book because Agape ties into so much of what God means to Christianity. In the eyes of Christianity, God IS Love. He created humanity to love him, but the love He wants isn’t a forced love. God NEVER forces any person to love Him if they don’t desire it because real love comes from free will. Christians don’t do good things because they think they’ll go to Heaven. They do good things because God’s love inspires them to love others in return.

So often, people think that Christianity is hateful when in reality, Christianity is so selfless that they want to protect people from hurting themselves. In the end, everyone has a choice to make, but Christians want to encourage people to make good choices. Christians don’t get anything out of trying to stop somebody from hurting themselves, if their motives are for all the right reasons. Real Christians don’t actively try to condemn others, but they admonish others.

Admonish means to caution someone, to remind a person of his or her obligations to something. Think of a child who is still learning the ways of the world. If a child was going to climb a tree, you would caution that child to be careful. If a child was procrastinating on an important project, you would remind that child of his or her duty as a student.

This all falls under the category of selfless love because the person who is admonished may hate the person doing the admonishing; he may not listen or he may condemn the other person. But the person doing the admonishing will still love the person being admonished anyway.

The best example of Agape in a person is Mother Teresa. She serviced the poor, but she never discriminated against a person’s religion. However, she did admonish wealthy countries and spoke out against abortion. Some people have hated Mother Teresa for what she stood for, but she continued to do her work anyway.

I’ll end this entry with a quote attributed to Mother Teresa and leave you to think about how our society would be if we were all a little more like her…

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

 

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

 

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway.

 

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway.

 

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway.

 

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

 

The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway.

 

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

 

In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.