Powerful people shun humbleness and humility. They like to bask in power, glory, influence, and in the fact that followers do their biddings. Little do they realize that much of the time people fear power and secretly resent the strong leader. They actually follow for fear of reprisal or exclusion.
May is a month that should actually remind us of humility. It starts with the feast of St Joseph the Worker, and is dedicated to the humble handmaid of the Lord, Mary. These two central figures of the New Testament and the story of salvation are prototypes of a humble lifestyle. Their humility made them ready and made it possible that they accept the role that God has given them in the salvation history.
Joseph, a humble carpenter, earned his livelihood through his work. He accepted God’s workings in his fiancée, and took her to be his lawfully wedded wife thus protecting Jesus from illegitimacy. He lived his fatherhood in simplicity and selflessness, sacrificing himself for the good of the child Jesus. In the entire gospel narratives we do not find one word of his recorded, only his silent reassuring presence.
Mary on the other hand, was chosen for the greatest mission possible: bearing God himself, hence the Ephesian title of Theotokos! She could not understand how this would come about but trusting God’s message she gave her fiat! Her willingness to do God’s plan was built not on a personal hubris but on the fact that, as the Angel told her, “Nothing is impossible to God” (Lk 1,37). The mother of the powerful wonder worker and crowd puller, she remains hidden although her son’s first disciple. She accepts to live her life in reference to the mission of her son and as a reflection of that mission.
Humility is derived from the Latin humus meaning ground. Being humble is to have one’s feet solidly on the ground; being grounded in reality. Thus a humble person will always know that what he has he has received; what is present now can be taken away in a second moment; that by oneself one can do little but one is always in need of others. The beauty of humble-ness is that the greater the power over others, the more one acts out in a humble way, the greater the attraction of the person. It is like electricity. Raw electricity kills but electricity that is safely guided generates light and power. Humility is the safe capturing of raw power that makes power beautiful.
Lately in the Church, we were regaled with an eminent example of the above. The whole world, believers and non-believers, stood by and watched the leader of one billion Catholics acting in a humble way: asking for prayers from the followers; standing in line to pay his bills; joining the public transport with his fellow Cardinal electors; shunning the trappings of the high office; talking of mercy rather than justice. The list goes on. What made people appreciate these gestures? I think it is the power of humility!