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Lowly Like God

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By Br. Leonard Konopka, MIC — April 27, 2016

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, because He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness — Lk 1:46-48 (emphasis added).

What do we sense or feel when we see a lowly person? To most of us, a lowly person seems rather insignificant. Generally, the lowly are not sought for their opinion about anything important.

Often, the lowly can eventually be so highly developed and profound that many of them are not even offended by the insulting remarks of others. Nor are they stunned by rejection when not invited to share their thoughts or feelings.

I lived with a priest who, on one occasion, was insulted by remarks directed at him. At first I was completely stunned and could not even respond when observing his demeanor. These remarks must have been hurtful, as they were addressed to him personally. But he was neither stunned nor grieved. He accepted the insults as well meant; it seemed he almost agreed with the person who made them. It was the first time that I observed the dignity that a lowly person can acquire when he bases his self-worth upon higher values, rather than on worldly criteria.

They are not necessarily shy. A shy person could be proud or egotistical, whereas the lowly make no excuses and have no need to hide, as they have nothing to fear. The majority of the lowly seem to know in whom to place their trust and find their true identity. When this confidence and trust is properly integrated, they can achieve a stability and integrity that we can admire.

Other than describing someone as "lowly," we may have little to say about them. We may know of them, but have no knowledge of their actual needs. They have a "poverty of prestige."
Therefore, the lowly rarely come into the limelight; seldom are they observed, because they do not often draw attention to themselves. Rarely are they assertive, or aggressive. They do not try to impress, but simply remain focused on the reality of who they have become.

In the Beatitudes, Jesus describes two elements of a lowly person: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth" (Mt 5:3-5).

The lowly rarely, if ever, exert any worldly power over others. They reject entitlement and ask for no privileges. Although they may have no social standing in a given community or worldly influence, they appear to be — and indeed are — "irresistible to God."

On a spiritual level, the created being who best models lowliness is Mary, the Mother of God!

It seems obvious that she views herself this way in the Magnificat (see Lk 1:46-48).

We come to a deeper relationship with Mary by considering not only what the world or the great saints have to say about her, but pondering, as she must have done, what she considered to be her own identity. This is what she seemed to rely on, and ignoring all else, in utter truth, simply states: My whole being proclaims the greatness of the Lord ... because He has looked upon His servant in her lowliness.

She did not say, "He looked upon His servant in her obedience, her purity, her devotion, her charity," nor any other of her many virtues. Why not? Mary seems to be implying that this is what God chose to honor more than any of her other virtues.

What makes this particular quality, lowliness, so attractive to God? What is God trying to tell us through this attribute of Mary? Simply stated: We are nothing, and God is everything. God has to strip everything away from us so that He alone can be the sole source of our focus, our identity, and our reason for existence. God has created us and knows we will never be complete until He is our all.

Convinced of this truth, Mary in her Magnificat did not even mention her other attributes, regardless of how perfect they were: not obedience, not purity, not simplicity, not prayerfulness, nor any of the other virtues she possessed (see the Rule of the Ten Virtues of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary).

Mary — our Mother, perfect model and steeped in lowliness — is the woman we are called to know and to be known by. We can serve her by integrating what we know about lowliness into our lives, giving her the total freedom to bring us to her Son and show us His characteristics and attributes for only one reason: to deepen our relationship with and trust in Him.

How can this lowliness be integrated into our own lives? Confident that God loves us completely, there are ways we can become more irresistible to God, as Mary was, even while on earth.

First of all, we can avoid saying, "God could never use me for anything."

Church history teaches us that God chooses precisely the lowly to serve Him. He calls those who are not centered on their own sense of self-worth, but rely on His worth, on His strength, and on His direction.

The lowly neither expect nor deny that God would want to speak to them, whether in prayer or the ordinary circumstances of life. They may not ask Him to speak to them, but neither do they refuse to listen to Him. Here are two examples of life experiences in which our lowliness can manifest itself:

• When we receive minimal answers to our prayerful requests and petitions. We pray, but God doesn't seem to respond. In our lowliness, patterning our response like Mary, how do we respond? What kinds of options do we have? Can we remain patient until God chooses the time and place to respond to our needs? In other words, how does a lowly person of faith respond when requests are not granted?

• We go to our best friend, another spiritual person, and/or a "spiritual director" with some concern, yet they just do not seem to understand. Saint Faustina complained to Jesus about not being understood by her confessors, but was told: "When you have those kinds of issues, come to Me. I will not give to others the answers that only I can supply" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1162)

Here's an examination of conscience to see if we have the virtue of lowliness:

• I may try to enter an "inn," just as the Holy Family tried to do in Bethlehem, but in a spirit of lowliness, would I humbly accept rejection?

• When I am not recognized or accepted by others, can my attitude be one that a lowly person would have, or would I demand recognition of my importance and expect to be heard?

• Will I give God and Mary permission to influence every aspect of my life from this day forward?

• More importantly, even if I know that God is always present, how long can I peacefully stay in the dark about certain events that God permits or allows, instead of pursuing my own ends and purposes? How long can I maintain the attitude and disposition that Mary had? (More on this later when discussing passive purification.) For example: A person is diagnosed with cancer or some other serious illness. After all the anguish, tears, bargaining with doctors for better medicine or hospitals, etc., is over with, how would a person of faith respond like Mary to this mystery of illness? How would brutal trust in God help us to achieve peace?

There is no pride in true lowliness, but spiritual pride can come in when we think we have acquired admirable qualities. "A proud man abhors lowliness" (Sir 13:20; see also Is 66:1-2). We love and honor Mary precisely when we are willing to accept lowliness. What are some of the possible results of remaining lowly?

Here are some fruits we will see when we have a "spirit" of lowliness:

• When others are preferred or chosen, it has little impact on our lives.

• We are not threatened by failure or lack of immediate results.

• We can be altruistic like Mary, who observed that the wedding party lacked wine at Cana. Like her, we can pray first and ask Our Lord for help in discerning the proper response to a given situation. Lowliness is also manifested when we surrender our need for constant recognition or approval by going out and symbolically or literally buying more wine. We again follow Mary's example at Cana to the servants: " whatever He tells you" (Jn 2:05). Then we carefully consider and analyze the outcome: The wine was much better (see Jn 2:10). When we are lowly, we do not want to interfere, but rather trust in Jesus and leave the results in His hands.

• We can keep going, even if we are not recognized by the pastor or others for contributions to parish life, not appreciated nor affirmed by family or relatives for our "assistance" to friends, office workers, or neighbors. Our motivation is love of God and little else. He died for us and cried out to the Father, but no affirmation came. Even His prayer was seemingly not heard. Jesus had to die a lowly death without any assurance other than His love for the Father, which was uncompromised. The Scriptures reveal nothing about what Mary might have said to Jesus when He was on the Cross. What a lowly position to be in, unable to comfort her own Son!

In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are encouraged to be persons who manifest mercy. In that context, we ponder what happened in the upper room at Pentecost. We pray and meditate, asking:

• Why was Mary there alone with the apostles?

• Being a "Follower of Mary" may require us to be reconcilers, just as Mary and the apostles were reconciled after they abandoned her at Calvary. What did Mary have to say to these apostles after they abandoned her Son? Did she initiate reconciliation with them for having fled from Calvary?

• How do others know we have forgiven them from our hearts?

• What did the apostles convey to Mary as she was in the midst of these chosen ones when the Church was born?

• Did the Holy Spirit wait for this reconciliation before He came upon them? We may have the Holy Spirit in our lives, but lack the "fullness" of the Holy Spirit until we too are reconciled with God and with others.

How anxious were the apostles to meet Mary, knowing full well that they had run away! The apostles must have sensed that in her lowliness, she would not judge them severely, if at all, but rather was more interested in maintaining a relationship.

If we want greater and better results from our efforts, more blessings and success in every endeavor, and union with Jesus in this life and the next, we should determine to follow Mary. She will guide us to Jesus and assist us to a better outcome. However, when we finally decide to trust Him completely, then we give God permission to direct any and all circumstances in our lives. When all of us walk in surrender and complete trust, then our prayer will actually be transformed. We will become grateful to Jesus in advance. We can become most assured and confident. With Blessed Solanus Casey, OFM Cap., we can pray, "Thank You, Lord, in advance for all Your designs on my life. Amen."

We may not even have to ask God "Why?" ever again. There will simply be no need.

There are levels of lowliness that will facilitate — and can provide us with a greater confidence in — what our Lord may be doing in our lives. When we cooperate with God's grace, we can become more sensitive to our present circumstances and even possibly discern His purpose for sending us various experiences. To achieve a deeper level of being lowly in spirit, "associate with the lowly" (see Rom 12:16).

In most of our lives, God allows certain events to occur through which He will help us to become more like Him. When certain confusing and difficult events occur, we need to surrender our own will and rely completely on Him (see Prov. 3:5).

God can use lowliness to bring us to a higher state of union with Himself and with Mary. For example, allowing God to take us through a state of purification can reveal His design and purpose to us. When it ends, we can come out of darkness and into the light through the discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit alone.

We can cooperate with God through willingly undergoing the different stages of the spiritual life:

Active Purification, manifested by:

Confession, penance, acts of mercy — especially forgiving others' sins against us — prayer, Sacraments, and offering God our every inclination and motivation to focus on Him.

Passive purification, manifested by:

Accepting "what" and "who" God sends into our life. Through His grace, we continually give God permission to have a greater influence in our life through the crosses He sends us and the circumstances in which He places us. For example, when insulted or aggrieved by others, we can calmly overcome our own feelings about the matter. Then we willingly take our eyes off of the offender and try to understand what God is telling us through the offense. We can ask Him: "Lord, what are you trying to teach me in this instance? What am I supposed to learn in this event and in all the other events I experience in my daily walk towards You?"

"Active" purification is necessary and extremely important, but "passive purification" is light-years more beneficial and soul-sanctifying. In passive purification, there is no pride or self-involvement as we have nothing. We fully cooperate with God in passive purification, whereas in active purification, our own pride, ego, etc., are often more involved.

Lowliness can then be understood as a precondition for being in a "state of passive purification." We give God our all, so He is totally involved to such a degree that we never have to ask, "Why are you permitting this?" A soul totally in union with Him arrives at a point beyond this question, simply and confidently submitting itself completely into His hands. God can then reveal our true identity, and then we can live totally liberated by the freedom that only He provides.

The most remarkable thing about Jesus and Mary's lowliness is that neither Jesus nor Mary were interested in self-assertion, but rather in total self-giving. Christ was not interested in asserting His power or divinity on the Cross. On the contrary, He surrendered all of that and showed mercy to the very end by asking His Father to forgive those of us who put Him there. He not only forgave others, but made excuses for their behavior. When was the last time we made an excuse for others acting in a certain way?

Once God convinces us of His mercy so that we can trust Him more fully, there is the possibility that, like Mary and our Lord, we will no longer have any need for self-assertion either, but simply surrender to the circumstances that He chooses to send into our lives. We are to show mercy to those He sends into our path, and until we can do that with greater trust, we simply come before Him and ask for the grace to do what Jesus and Mary accomplished. They both ultimately surrendered to the Father's will. Surrendering to Jesus is the highest vocation and deepest desire of our lives, whether we are conscious of that or not.

In her lowliness, Mary sought no privilege from being the mother of Christ. To the contrary, she was not spared pain, but quite anguished and sorrowful upon losing her Son! She may have recalled the prophecy of Simeon: " … and a sword will pierce through your own soul also … " (Lk 2:35). Saint John Paul 11 said: " … she (Mary) felt grief beyond what any other Mother could have experienced at the sufferings of her Son, because of her perfect bond of love and compassion for Him and horror and anguish at the price that was being paid for human sin, so her suffering was greater — and her faith was deeper — than any other mother at that point."

The Holy Family reveals some aspects of lowliness, as well. In their earthly lifetimes, Mary and Joseph were of no significance, unimportant, not gifted with exceptional talents, and in no way noteworthy! Jesus' lowliness manifested in the fact that, other than Mary, Joseph, and the three Kings, no one of significance was present at His birth, nor at His death.

Also noteworthy in the lives of the Holy Family is their poverty of prestige.

Mary was prepared through her lowliness to be the Mother of God. How might that have been accomplished? The desert fathers and Archbishop Fulton Sheen give us a subtle answer to the question with their views, namely, Mary became pregnant with the Word of God before she became pregnant with the Person of the Word. How would her example impact our lives if we were willing to likewise become "pregnant' with the Word? How would we be motivated from now on to accept and integrate the lowliness that God wants us to experience in our life? The consequences of imitating Mary at this level can also include bringing us to experience a very deep and profound embrace of His will, so that here too we will never again need to ask "why?" of Him.

If Mary indeed became pregnant with the Word before becoming pregnant with the Christ Child, that should motivate us to become very familiar with the Scriptures as well. We cannot easily imitate Mary in her sublime virtues, but we can certainly follow her example and become pregnant with the Word by reading it daily and applying the truths found therein to our daily lives.

Mary's lowliness is unique. God created her with this quality in her nature. Her very being, i.e., who she was, contained the very essence of lowliness. Therefore, we can have confidence in the knowledge that God infused this in her soul when He created her, revealing what He considers comprises and constitutes the greatest attribute of our being. This quality — lowliness — must really appeal to God.

Similarly, the Holy Spirit speaks to us about lowliness as a quality that God admires. God chose the one who is lowly. How different and contrary indeed are the ways of God from our ways! The world despises and rejects the lowly, but God seems to gravitate to them. We can be most drawn to God when we are lowly and He becomes our all. We, in turn, become the object of His concern and interest. It is as if we become irresistible to God! Mary was profoundly irresistible and thereby chosen to become His Mother.

And she is the mother of a God who has lived the deepest lowliness in the Incarnation. He remains lowly and hidden in our tabernacles, in the Eucharist, and even in those coincidences we all encounter. Thus, like Mary, who chose to walk humbly and be unrecognized throughout much of her life, our Lord is confident that in faith and trust we will recognize His lowly presence and trust Him ever more profoundly with our lives.

Those who have the desire to achieve some level of lowliness can begin to pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino, a master of humility, so that we may also embrace those moments of lowliness when the Holy Spirit provides the opportunity. We don't need to wait; we can ask His intercession to protect us from pride, the greatest of sins, and for all our needs, as well as those of our families, friends, and enemies.

Litany of Humility
By Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved ...
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others ...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised ...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything ...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should ...

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anon - Jul 26, 2018

I humbly admit that I can't and could never take all the sufferings and beatings that WILL come if you say the litany of humility. Please Lord never let me in my PRIDE think that I can endure and take what needs to be done to be truly humbled. Please Lord let me be always loved, extolled, honored, praised, etc. just like Our Lady is.

Barbera - May 29, 2016

Thanksgiving for this beautiful sharing in being a humble saint a servant in Divine Mercy kindness

Lowliness leads to holiness

Blessed Mary pray for us

Elizabeth - May 22, 2016

Great article regarding the lowliness of our blessed Mother. We her children should always pray for increased strength to imitate her virtues, especially her LOWLINESS. Let's imagine a world where EVERYONE is lowly. That will be Heaven on earth! Lowliness is the key to peace. That's why she is called QUEEN OF PEACE.