"Great graces cannot be obtained without humility. When you yourself experience humiliation, you should take it as a sure sign that some great grace is in store. "
~ St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Each one of us, at one time or another, has been humiliated. Humbled, taken down a notch, embarrassed, put to shame. But how many of us would ask to be humiliated? St. Therese did. She wrote, "I beg you, my Divine Jesus, to send me a humiliation whenever I try to set myself above others."
Wow. That takes guts. See, she knew that when a person starts to feel prideful, he or she begins to move away from God. We're all human, and we all have those kind of moments. Of course, I don't even have to beg the Good Lord to send me humiliations, because I already receive them without even asking! Lucky, lucky me!
My humiliations usually come in some sort of manner that involves me being sprawled out on the pavement in public somewhere. My mom calls it "weak ankles," but I know better. It's God telling me some great graces are in store for me!
Ah yes, my memory takes me back to last summer when I tripped and flew—yes, I actually flew—across a pedestrian bridge over the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh (you can read about that effects of that little incident here). That was the night before the big Catholic Press Association awards banquet. You could say I was a little nervous. I lay there completely humbled on the bridge thinking, "Really, Lord? REALLY?"
But the very next day, I was repaid with an award for Olivia's Gift, Deo gratias. When I look at those photos, I think of my knee all bandaged, banged up and throbbing in pain. But it was worth it! Ah, to be humbled to show your love for God!
I haven't tripped—yet—bringing the gifts up the steps to the altar at Mass, but it may happen one day. Oh God, please no. Please, please no.
Another time, many years ago, I had my first journalism job after college, at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. I was out and about on my lunch hour in my new heels. I was 21 and I thought I was on top of the world, eager to prove to everyone that I was a true professional. Yeah, I tripped on the sidewalk there, too. People stopped and asked me if I was okay. A bruised ego, yes, but nothing more.
On another day while employed at that same newspaper, one of the employees from another part of the building glared at me and asked, "Are you allowed in here, young lady?" I had to explain that I was an employee. "Oh, I'm sorry, you look so young!" he said, laughing.
I didn't laugh. Yep. Humbled, I was.
But St. Therese, in her saintly wisdom, was right: These things are good for us. I got to thinking about that, and so one day, after thinking about the sin of pride, I told the Good Lord, "Lord, please send me a humiliation. I think I need one."
God answers prayer!
As I signed books one day at an event, a nice man came up to me and told me that his daughter's name was Olivia and he'd love for me to sign a book for her. We talked about the popularity of the name for a bit. I told him I'd be happy to sign a book and uncapped my pen. "And your daughter's name?" I asked him.
"Um, that would be Olivia."
Yeah. Well, it had been a long day.
Then, in a store trying on sunglasses, I started up a conversation with the young lady working behind the counter. "What do you think of these?" I asked her expectantly. She was fairly young. I'm pretty sure I had leftovers in my fridge older than her.
She stalled for time, then finally said, "Well...you look like a bug."
"A bug?" I was horrified. "I don't think I'll take these," I said and quickly took them off.
"I'm sorry, ma'am!" she exclaimed. "The frames are just too big for you, that's all!"
Ha! She just lost a sale, that salesgirl. I shrunk out of the store and went home.
Another time, I was in the produce section of Trader Joe's. I grabbed my bag of butter lettuce, put it into my cart, and wheeled away toward the dairy products. I was trying to decide between Greek yogurt and regular when suddenly I heard a little bit of a commotion behind me.
"My cart! It's gone!" cried a perplexed, elderly woman. I glanced over at her and watched her exchange comments with another shopper. "I just turned my back for a second! Where could it have gone?"
"Are you sure?" the other shopper asked. "It has to be around here somewhere!"
It was then that I knew. I just knew.
Sure enough, I looked into the cart I'd been pushing around and found all kinds of groceries. None looked familiar. That's because none of them were mine.
I closed my eyes, sighed heavily out of embarrassment and wheeled the cart back, shamefaced. "I'm sorry," I said to the lady. "I stole your cart by mistake."
The lady showed visible relief.
"I'm so glad! I didn't want to have to go get everything again."
"I'm sorry," I apologized again. "It's my fortieth birthday today and I'm aging by the second! This is not a good sign," I murmured.
The lady came over to me and gave me, a complete stranger, a big hug. "God bless you, Honey," she said, and patted me on the back. "Oh, you're going to be just fine."
We shared a little Christian moment right there in Trader Joe's, patting each others' backs.
Recently at the drugstore, I was paying for my purchases with a coupon. Things didn't go as planned, and the cashier accidentally rung it up incorrectly. When I politely told her of the error, it took her and a manager to straighten out the mess. It also took lots of math.
"I'm not sure I understand this," I said, studying the receipt. "Shouldn't the total be ____?"
"Well, I messed up and added it again, but I took it off down here, but then you had the coupon, and I double rang it, and then I had to divide by seven, delete the quantity, add the percentage, multiply it to the 5th power, and carry the nine so that the total would be $29.37," she chirped. "Then of course, I gave you the discount."
"But..." I managed to eke out.
She repeated the impossibly confusing (to me) calculation. Then the manager got in on the discussion.
"Do you understand?" she asked me hopefully.
She went over it a third time. "I want to make sure you understand."
I still didn't get it.
"Sorry," I said, red-faced, to the other customers in line behind me. They didn't appear to be all that forgiving. I turned back around to the cashier.
"Oh yes, I see NOW," I said with a little laugh.
Does that count as a lie? Because I really didn't.
I gathered up my purchases. In the end, I decided to trust the cashier. I sat in my car and studied the receipt, then in my humiliation stuffed it back into the bag. UGH!
There are other instances, but I think I'll keep them to myself, thank you very much. Let's just say that God must have many graces in store for me, and leave it at that!
"But, you know my weakness, Lord. Every morning I make a resolution to practice humility and in the evening I recognize that I have committed again many faults of pride. At this I am tempted to become discouraged but I know that discouragement is also pride. Therefore O my God, I want to base my hope in You alone.”