We started out this year with our editorial theme: “He Must Increase, I Must Decrease.” When I was brainstorming an editorial theme for the last weeks of the year before the start of Advent, reflecting on this theme, the word that kept coming to me in prayer was “death.”
Ha, ha, very funny, Lord.
But when I prayed more deeply about the theme during adoration, I found myself praying the Litany of Humility, reflecting on humility as a type of death. In humility, we let go of the things that keep us from focusing on the One above all things: Jesus. We let go of every fear and desire that makes us feel as though our ideas, our plans are more important than His. We lay down our very lives, and how we live them, preferring nothing to His will.
We are preparing to die.
The trees reveal this to us in the northern hemisphere, as they transform from the lush green of summer to golds and fiery reds and yellows. The whole world burns with the last lively colors of autumn as the beauty of summer fades. The skies become grayer, highlighting the vibrance of late blooming flowers. The late harvest from the garden marks an end to fresh picked vegetables.
Everything fades. The world around us falls into a deep rest.
There’s always been something somber to me about this time of year, and something thrilling. That feeling intensified after I moved to Chicago for undergrad. I left while the gardens were lush and fully blooming. When I came home at the end of that semester, the grass was brown. The leaves had fallen. My beloved dog, Midnight, who used to run with me through the woods and the meadow, was gone.
And after living in the city for a few months, closed in by buildings, surrounded by bustling crowds, inundated with different lights and sounds and smells at every turn—there was silence. Peace. It was the same silence I’d grown up with, but it felt new. After leaving and returning, I was able to return to experience that silence anew.
The leaves fall, beauty fades, and the gray of winter may seem endlessly long. But spring will return with fresh bouquets and gardens abuzz with new life. The broken world around us teaches us to let go, to detach, to allow the brokenness within us to die—that we may be raised to new life.
Remember, you will die.
As a child, I was never properly afraid of death. From the time I was four years old, I’d experienced the deaths of several close family friends and family pets, and, as I mentioned in our Saints for Slackers episode on Catherine of Alexandria, I wanted to be a martyr. The fact that I would one day die was simply a fact of reality, and I trusted that God would provide for my life and my death.
But there was a brief point in my life where the inevitability of my own death terrified me.
I’ve spoken before about my journey back to the Church, my attempts to run from God’s plan for my life in my blog Stumbling Back to the Heart of God. The winter of my freshman year of college was a key point in that journey. I learned to appreciate the stillness, the silence, the need for rest amid the busyness of the world.
More than that, I yearned for a peace that cannot be attained in this world. I was searching for God—or rather, my heart was searching for a return to Him—even though I didn’t know He was the One I sought.
I found Him in my own littleness. Standing in the meadow, alone for the first time without my dog, in the pitch-black night, staring up at a starry sky so unfathomably bigger than anything I could imagine—I recognized my own littleness. I am a little person, on a little planet in a universe vast beyond human comprehension.
And I am loved by a Love even greater than the limits of space and time. A Love that calls me to love Him in return.
This sort of love can feel overwhelming. To be known fully, to be loved completely—there are no words to properly grasp the immensity of God’s love. Our minds are too little to fathom the fullness of Who He is. Sometimes He brings us to that space where we’re confronted with our littleness, our brokenness, our seeming insignificance. But He doesn’t do this in order to break us further, to drive our hearts down to the dust—He’s showing us how completely, how totally we need Him, need to rely on Him in every aspect of our lives.
God’s love is broader than the expanse of the universe, yes. He is greater, grander, more majestic than anything we can imagine. He’s also humbler than we can fathom. This same Love penetrates to the tiniest subatomic element of reality. He who knows the composition and guides the movement of every single atom ever created, He who hung the stars in place and set the planets into motion—He knows me. He sees me. He loves me.
This love, this goodness, this joy is the essence of humility. To be humble is not to belittle ourselves, to degrade our dignity as human persons created in His image and likeness. It’s a simple acknowledgement of the truth that God is so much greater than I am, that He is at work through me and in me, that He calls me to belong to Him.
True humility is submitting ourselves to the Truth, Who is Jesus, and preferring nothing to His love. We die to our own will so that His may be accomplished in and through us. We become like the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies, so that Our Lord can restore us, make all things new within us.
Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.