Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thanks to Mike, A Mostly Humble Guy

Posted by Webster
Being a Catholic is way too much fun for one man. Last night, a Christmas party. This morning, wake up to a great post by Frank on the liturgy for Advent. Now, men’s group in the basement of our church, a foundation stone of my week. Does it get any better than this?

Mike, one of the humblest guys in the group, spoke about humility. I took a picture of Mike leading the meeting. Is it significant that the image is out of focus, so that you can’t make Mike out very well? He is the middle blur at left. Humble of him to project such an image, huh?

Mike took as his text a short book titled The Power of Humility by Canice Bourke, OFM. The conversation it sparked was one of our best, in which several people asked good questions and/or offered excellent insights into humility, what Fr. Bourke calls “the foundation of all other virtues.”

Mike himself started off with a good point. “If I fail at other virtues,” he said, “it’s usually pretty easy to detect. If I get angry, if I overeat—I know it right away. A failure of humility is hard to detect.” Mike makes his living primarily as a substitute teacher in local school systems, including our parish school. He lives simply, taking care of his elderly mother. I think of him as the humblest of men, and I mean that as a compliment, of course. But Mike spoke convincingly of his failures of humility while teaching, standing in front of “the kids” and finding that pride waits for him “in ambush.”

Jonathan usually has a very fine intellectual grasp of matters discussed, and when I raised the stark contrast between the Christian ideal of humility and the modern psychological ideal of self-esteem, he parsed that as a “psychological” problem, not a religious one. Jonathan usually talks too fast and smart for my pen, so that’s my one note on his contribution.

As usual, some of the best exchanges involved Ferde, our outgoing president (Patrick takes over at the next meeting, January 2), and Bob, a former seminarian and now the father of three. Ferde said that he thought the first step to humility is “removing pride.” Bob interjected that the first step, “as always, is begging.” My pal Ferde had a pretty good rejoinder to that: “OK, I’ll be humble this time. Have it your way, Bob.”

Ten minutes later, when Bob went off on a good long jag about the “line in the sand” between confidence (a virtue) and arrogance or pride (a sin), Ferde finally stopped him with “OK, Bobby, now you’re filibustering! Keep reading, Mike!”

Frank G. and Frank K. are the two senior members of our group. I think of them as the Italian sausage and the Polish sausage. The Polish Frank sat quiet for most of the meeting, after a week spent flat on his back in the hospital. But near the end of the meeting, he piped up: “In all this discussion, has anyone mentioned obedience?” No one had mentioned obedience, so, led by Frank, who said that Christ’s ministry began in obedience to his parents, we talked some about where and how obedience and humility intersect with pride.

The meeting was soon at a close, though not without the Italian Frank’s closing prayer, offered each week:

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray. O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who prowl through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.