The Opportunity of a Humiliation

We Will Not Have You Govern Us For You Are Too Unlearned [see 2 Celano145b; Legend of Perugia 83; Mirror of Perfection 64]

In the everyday world people are lauded for their ability to 'seize an opportunity and profit from it'. It's most remarkable when the opportunity is there for everyone, yet somehow the vast majority overlooks it. Ultimately, someone recognizes an option which others haven't discovered and turns it into profit. Would you account a humiliation as an opportunity for gain? Francis did.

In his description of a 'True Friar Minor', Francis uses an illustration of himself being criticized and removed from office in the Order because…"you have no eloquence, you are simple and unlettered." He continues, "At length I am thrown out with reproaches and despised by all. I say to you unless I listen to these words [of humiliation] with the same face, with the same joy, with the same purpose of sanctity,[as words of praise], I am in no way a Friar Minor." And he added: "In an office is found an occasion for a fall; in praise, an occasion for complete destruction; in the humility of being a subject, an occasion for profit for the soul. Why then do we pay more attention to the dangers than to the profit, when we have time to gain profit?

In pointing out the dangers of praise and the profit in humiliation the Poor One of Assisi is guiding his followers up the mountain of sanctity and perfection. If we wish to follow him on this assent we have to accept our humiliations as gains; for under grace, that is truly what they are.

For our purposes let's say that humiliations come in two general forms. The first are those which we inflict upon ourselves. We might call this, "making a fool of myself", usually caused by poor judgment or foolish behavior. Often in this circumstance there is no spiritual gain, because we're generally not aware of what's happening or why. But if there is awareness, then the opportunity for gain will follow.

The second form of humiliation comes from others and is more of an injustice; often brought upon by some misunderstanding or confusion. Or perhaps a judgment that's different than ours. Even the lowliness of our position, our lack of power or rights, places us at a disadvantage. We feel the humiliation deeply and our first inclination is to react emotionally; to defend ourselves. But wait, this is where Francis says…'I see an opportunity for profit'.

We read in scripture: God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6). Yet often it seems that even among those interested in the spiritual life; that to act humbly is separate from enduring a humiliation. The sense that justice may be lacking causes the wounded soul to want to defend and fight back: if my humiliation is caused by someone else's detraction of me...then what? Am I not entitled to my reputation? And even if I do bear some fault, should I not be treated more charitably?

But what might Francis whisper? "I say to you unless I listen to these words [of humiliation] with the same face, with the same joy, with the same purpose of sanctity [as praise], I am in no way a Friar Minor."

Do you think that this is unique to the Franciscan way? Consider the Church's teaching on Indulgences, updated and revised in 1968. In the First General Grant we read: "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful who, in the performance of their duties and in bearing the trials of life, raise their mind with humble confidence to God, adding—even if only mentally—some pious invocation." Are not humiliations, prime fodder for this source of grace?

Again in the Third General Grant: "A partial indulgence is granted to the faithful, who in the spirit of penance deprive themselves of what is licit and pleasing to them." That justice that I didn't receive—that justice that was lacking, yet licit and pleasing to me—can't this be given up in the spirit of penance? Is it any wonder that the poor Francis, affectionately known as the Poverello, was the richest man on the face of the earth?

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