The Third Degree of Humility

By Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ

From Making Choices in Christ

abstract art of foot wearing a sandalThe third way to live humility in Ignatian spirituality begins with a prayer to the Father that he will grant you the grace to live in the way of Jesus, who “emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave” (Philippians 2:7). It leads to choosing things that your life world despises.

Here’s an illustration: A man is at the peak of his career. He is doing great good in his work, has grown quite wealthy, and his whole city knows how good he is. Then he meets Jesus Christ in prayer and hears the call of the King. That call is to leave his success and wealth behind and help the men and women who are hungry and homeless in his community. So he does that, simply because he loves his Master and wants to be like him. The man resigns his position and begins to manage soup kitchens.

This lover asks the Father, “Let me do things together with your Son and like your Son.” He is opening himself to some negative things and some positive things. He is saying to God that he will set aside anything in his life or his self that stands between him and the One he loves. He will not cling to any attitude or habit that would make him other than who Jesus of Nazareth was and is.

But there is more. He understands that God may have hopes for him that require his setting aside some strong and great gifts. The man in the illustration had a great talent for business, and he let it go. He had great potential as a civic leader, and he abandoned that potential. More than one superbly gifted musician has laid instrument and music aside because God called him or her to something different.

Is this moral? Is this not despising the gifts of God? It could be. But that is not likely if the lover has a strong sense of self, knows his or her gifts, and appreciates them for what they really are. But there is something that the lover appreciates more: doing everything together with Jesus Christ. The Beloved has lived a certain kind of life, so this lover wants to live it, too.

Is this real? It is, and we have seen many instances of it. Many of Christ’s disciples today live among the poor and outcast because of love for Jesus Christ. Many others set aside the deep human instinct to propagate because they are called as Jesus was to generate life in another way. Others, both married and single, empty themselves to serve as the Master did and let no one know what it costs except the One whom they love.

This third degree of humility often brings to mind images of someone despised and rejected, as Jesus was in the end. It may be that God the Father would choose that for the one who asks to live as the Son lived. It certainly happens: those who proclaim the Good News are incarcerated for long years, for instance. But it is crucial to note that if someone provokes others to despise and reject him except when he is doing what must be done for Christ’s sake, he cannot be thought humble. A fool, perhaps; not humble. Always the prayer must be that the Father allow you to imitate in your own time the way of Jesus of Nazareth, so long as you do not sin, and no one else sins, either.

The lover in this case is made greater by love. The Beloved chose to empty himself, taking on the ways and characteristics of a servant. He did not mind being told that he was seriously mistaken about God and the people. He did not mind being considered mad. And his way led to great suffering and death. The person who wishes to be meek and humble as Jesus was can say to the Father honestly, “Treat me as you treated your own Son.” Such a prayer has nothing to do with negative self-image or despising the gifts of the Spirit. On the contrary, heroic love is meek and humble, but it is also glorifying. Just look at what happened in the end to Jesus of Nazareth.

Excerpt from Making Choices in Christ by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ.


Related Links

The First Two Degrees of Humility by Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ

Joseph Tetlow on Prayer (video)

The Foundation of Heroism: Magis by Chris Lowney