Christmas: a Lesson on Humility
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Spiritan family,
Happy Christmas and may the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ who is born to us this season be with you all. As, we rejoice at the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and approach the end of another year, it is a good time to take stock. Reflecting on the message of this season and evaluating the year that is about to end, how am I preparing for this great celebration that changed the history of the world? Will Christ be born into my heart or is it a mere superficial celebration? Are there threads that need to be severed? Any loose end to be bound up? What relationships need to be mended? And many other questions that might need to be addressed. This is why I have chosen to reflect briefly on the importance of humility as the message of this year’s Christmas, because without it there can be no Christmas. St Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:5-8 states clearly that “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; who, being in very nature of God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, been made in human likeness. And been found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death; even death on a cross.”
We read this passage in our Divine Office and it can be very easy to overlook these words of humility especially at this season, as we focus on the baby in the manger. But let us think for a moment about the sheer magnitude of what Jesus did. The only begotten Son of God, perfect in holiness, unlimited in power, entered into his own creation- as one of his own creature. He who created the heavens and the earth, formed the stars and galaxies and called each one by name, accepted the confines of a mortal, limited body. The one whom angels adored became a poor carpenter and ended up on the cross because he loves us. What a humility!
The story of one of our founders Claude Poullart des Places also buttresses the point that humility is the basis for our calling. Permit me to bore you a little with this story you know too well. Our first founder grew up in a wealthy home as the eldest son of a wealthy lawyer in Rennes, Brittany. Having finished high school at fifteen, he then graduated top of his class at college. He would surely fulfill his father’s ambition and become a distinguished lawyer. Claude in humility was ambitious but for something else. During a retreat he discovered his vocation to priesthood and how he could use his public speaking skills to convert thousands to Christ. Although this decision deeply upset his father, he knew he could not keep his son at home. Claude left for Paris to study theology at the Jesuit seminary.
Child labour was a common sight in Paris in Pre- French Revolution days. Illiterate, homeless chimney sweeps from rural France hired themselves out for a few cents a day. Claude became aware of how exploited they were. In humility, he stooped to their level, his heart went out to them and he fed, housed and gave them some basic religious education. He also saw how many of the other seminarians were living a hand-to-mouth existence and gave them his own meals. He chose to give away his own meal and lived on the leftovers of the Jesuits for his own food. But his social conscience told him that handouts were not enough. So, on Pentecost Sunday, 1703, he opened a hostel for about four of these poor students. Unknown to Claude, the future Holy Ghost Congregation had been born.
The stories of the incarnation and our first founder invite us to reflect on the virtue of humility as we celebrate the Christmas and prepare for Bagamoyo 2012, our first General Chapter in Africa next year. Our Congregation in obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit made the choice to hold this so great an assembly in an African soil. That I must say is laudable and a sign of openness to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we continue to depend on the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit and being strengthened through the intercession of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, it is expected that we shall accept in humility the new demands of mission in our changing World. It is the virtue of humility that can help us realize our true identity and make us available for services and missions. The SRL no 5 states, “We live out our mission in willing obedience to the Holy Spirit taking Mary as our model. This condition of habitual fidelity to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is the practical union of which Libermann speaks. It is the wellspring of our apostolic zeal and leads us to being completely available and making a complete gift of ourselves.”
Humility makes us open and completely available for the services of the poor and the needy in our world today. At Christmas, the infant Jesus in the manger invites us to see him and assist him in our various apostolates. He is always with us asking for a room in our hearts. He asks not with that voice we cannot understand but with the voice of our contemporaries in challenging situations, eyes of that poor and deprived (even a Confrere), with the hands of the marginalized, slum dwellers and street children. In line with our charism, our service to these little ones is service to Jesus. May we welcome him in especial way this season into our hearts, our communities and zones.
I recommend a little get together for communities and Zones to share the joy of this season as brothers. Once again, I wish you merry Christmas and a Spirit-filled New Year.
Very Rev. Fr. Hyacinth Ogbodo, CSSp