With humility comes approachability
A reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C
by Deacon Dennis Lambert
In the sport of professional basketball, players stand the size of trees. In fact, the average player in the NBA measures in at 6 feet, 7 inches tall. One would think that anyone under 6 foot would have little chance of making it to the NBA. Despite this assumption, these odds, enter into the discussion one Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues.
At just 5 feet, 3 inches tall, not only did Bogues make it to the NBA, he excelled within it. Just three inches taller than St. Mother Teresa, Muggsy Bogues had a 14-year NBA career where he averaged 7.7 points and 7.6 assists per game, and currently ranks 23rd in NBA history for career assists. Oh, and in 1986 this undersized underdog won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest.
I, like I imagine most people, am drawn to the underdog and find myself energetically rooting for them. Our world has been richly full of such underdogs. A short list of examples includes Abraham Lincoln, Susan Boyle, Kurt Warner, King David, and the aforementioned St. Mother Theresa.
While the reasons for our attraction to the underdog are varied, please allow me to add a personal dimension to the discussion, one that you perhaps can also identify with: I am attracted most to underdogs that demonstrate, amongst all their other attributes and abilities, the virtue of humility.
There is nothing more inspirational to me than to see a person achieve what seems to be an unsurmountable feat, and to do so without beating their chest, without drawing attention to the mighty “me”. Consider how Kurt Warner would deflect any of his personal achievements to his teammates. Contemplate how St. Mother Theresa took no credit whatsoever for all she did in her service to the poor but rather gave it all to God. It is this ability, this humility, that elevates and transforms such individuals from underdogs to heroes, and in many cases, to saints.
While St. Mother Theresa is an individual who personifies this humble underdog-hero-saint category, there is one even greater example. She was a woman who came from a nothing town and from a poor, unprivileged family. The odds of her becoming known and loved throughout and beyond time, incalculable. She was the underdog of underdogs, and I’m sure you know of whom I speak: Mary, hero, saint, and Mother to all.
Mary stands atop this category of underdog-hero-saint largely due to her humility, to her ability to completely empty herself and to allow herself to be filled with God’s grace. By filled, I mean filled! So “full of grace”, God’s grace, that there was no room for anything within herself but God alone. John the Baptist prayed, “He must increase, I must decrease.” The active tense of these words tells us that this was a process St. John was in the midst of. Mary, on the other hand, was all the way to the end of this goal…she had entirely decreased, allowing herself to be completely filled with nothing but God. This is humility at its highest level.
Right before this Sunday’s Gospel we encounter our Blessed Mother underdog completely emptying herself as she totally submits to the will of God, “Behold I am a handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your will.” This act of superlative humility is followed by another as she travels, pregnant, 90 miles to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s fullness of grace is recognized immediately by Elizabeth as she joyfully declares, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” And due to her ultimate humility and emptiness, not only is Mary filled with God in a spiritual sense but in a physical one as well!
In addition to what’s already been said about humility lies a critically important truth: with humility comes approachability. Think of the humblest person you know…pretty darn approachable are they not? So it is with our Blessed Mother. Her humility calls us to her; it begs us to come to her and to allow her to intercede on our behalf.
And this humility has a source: God himself. And fittingly, God, the creator of everything, merited to have entered the world in the grandest of fashion. He deserved to have been born in a palace, with a plethora of physicians, attendants, fine linens, and food. But no. Instead, God chooses, in His humility, to come to us not only from parents of low worldly standing, but elects literally to be born in a stable. Amongst animals, with all their noises, smells, and dander, He comes to us. Amongst bent straw and laid in a feeding trough, He begins His mission of salvation. Why? Why this way? Because with humility comes approachability. Through His humility He becomes accessible, through humility He calls us to draw near.
One of the best gifts we can give to ourselves and the world this Christmas is an increase in our own humility. Like Mary, like all the underdog-hero-saints, we are called to be attractive witnesses to the truth which is Christ. And there is nothing more attractive, more approachable than a person in pursuit of humility.
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C, are
Dennis Lambert serves as a deacon in the Diocese of Phoenix. Dennis is a published author whose first novel, THE TABLE, won two Catholic Press Association awards. His first work of non-fiction, FOR REAL? CHRIST’S PRESENCE IN THE EUCHARIST, is scheduled to be released in April 2022 by Liguori Publications. Please visit dennislambert-writer.com for more information.