Lent calls us to examine the values we hold dear, those that shape our self-perception, and animate us. Through forty days—forty days!—of deliberate reflection, prayer and study, one of the questions we are to ask ourselves, “Am I leading a life that matters?”
These Lenten devotions focus on the watchword, “humility”, it’s place in our Christian faith, particularly against the norms paraded through our media and social circles. If you find humility elusive in our world today and not perceived as a potent value to guide us, you are not alone.
The ancient philosopher, Aristotle, whose wisdom continues to shape our thinking wrote, “honor and reputation are among the pleasantest things, through each person’s imagining that he has the qualities of an important person: all the more so when others say so.” In Humilitas, John Dickson paints a picture of the ancient Mediterranean culture and the way honor rested among the highest virtues and its opposite, shame, an ultimate deficient. A father among the ancients would desire a son to experience happiness and wealth within his lifetime, and live a moral life, but more than anything would desire for his son to bring honor to the family.
In this context, the ancients thought nothing of praising themselves in public—or better yet—getting others to praise them. Of course, they would seek honor—known as philotima—literally the love of honor, the pursuit of tangible or intangible honor. This afforded no room for humility and it’s risk of…shame.
Sound familiar? This ancient Mediterranean value system still holds sway.
Christ was so radical then and remains so today. The idea of becoming a servant to others—particularly the low—was anathema. Jesus turned social customs upside down by preaching love your neighbor as you love yourself.
The apostle Paul writes extensively about taking on humility, humbling oneself (he had first-hand experience on the Damascus road) and of not being ashamed of the cross.
God revealed that true strength and enduring life rests in humility.
Humility may not have the currency prized by the media, but rather, humility is grounded in strength and is the virtue to bring us closer to life and experience love.