Friday, March 30, 2018

Why I'm Joining the Episcopal Church

Interior of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA, where my family and I will be received in the Episcopal Church during the Easter Vigil.
Tomorrow, during the Great Easter Vigil at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, my family and I will be received into the Episcopal Church.

It has been a long and painful journey and after six years of traveling, it looks like I'm finally arriving somewhere. As many of you know, I have been flirting with Anglicanism for many years now. After reflecting for a while, I decided at one point to remain in the Roman Catholic Church.  But now I have discerned that it is time to leave. So what changed?

Before delving into the reasons for leaving the Roman Catholic Church and joining the Anglican Communion, let me make clear that I still love the Catholic Church. There has not been any one event that has made me want to leave.

Why then, am I leaving?

I am simply leaving to follow God's calling on my life. 

Yes, I still have some disagreements theologically with the Roman Catholic Church. I disagree with their views on women ordination and closed communion, among others. But as I mentioned before, these disagreements were not enough for me to leave the Roman Catholic Church just yet. I still loved the Roman Catholic Church and I was willing to live with the disagreements.

This is how it went down: while in prayer on an otherwise uneventful day, I heard the surprising and shocking call to join the Episcopal Church. I was feeling very comfortable in my Roman Catholic nest and then all of that changed that afternoon when I heard in prayer "I have called you into the Episcopal Church."

After this disrupting event during prayer a few months ago I was filled with great confusion. There were also moments of great joy and excitement, alongside moments of grief and fear.

I felt joy and excitement because joining the Episcopal Church would allow me to pursue and discern a calling to the Priesthood as a married man. I had resigned, with some difficulty, from pursuing this call because I also felt called towards marriage. As a married man, the doors to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church are pretty much closed to me.

I felt grief and fear because I was entering into a future that is still unknown to me while at the same time leaving the comfort of what I have known since I was a child. My flirting with Anglicanism has been just that, flirting, and now I realize that I never would have made the move to Canterbury on my own. I needed God's pushing for me to dive and swim to the other side of the river.

I now realize why I couldn't do this on my own: fear. This is a move I've been wanting to do for many years now, but when the Roman Catholic Church instills in your soul from childhood that they are the only one and true Church, letting go of those ideas can't be done overnight. Even when your mind and soul knows this not to be true, there is a part of you that still holds on to past ideas. I needed God's hands to gently push me to make the move.

I also feel fear that others will perceive this move as a betrayal. Perhaps some will feel that I am abandoning the Catholic faith. Make no mistake, I am not abandoning the Catholic faith. My faith in the Sacraments, the intercession of the Virgin Mary and the Saints, heck, even in purgatory, remains untouched.

One of the most attractive aspects of Anglicanism is its broadness and inclusion of Catholic and Reformed traditions. There are many Anglo-Catholics in the Episcopal Church whose Catholicism can be as intense (or even more intense!) as many Roman Catholics'. This broadness also makes it possible for me to engage with some Protestant traditions and theologians without the guilt that accompanied such engagements in the past.

Since the beginning of my walk with Jesus, I have been in contact with Christians of other faith traditions. I have engaged with Protestant theologians and I have found much value in what they say. This engagement almost always left me with a sense of guilt. This guilt stemmed from the fact that the Roman Catholic Church considered these theologians heretics. 

The Episcopal Church feels to me like a more ecumenical place to be, and being in this Church would give me more theological room to breathe. This theological breath was what first attracted me to Anglicanism six years ago, and it is what catapulted me into this journey.

This post wouldn't be complete without the mention of my classmates and the staff from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, the Episcopal seminary I'm currently attending. You welcomed me and loved me long before I became part of the Episcopal Church. For that, I am eternally thankful. You also taught me how to love the Anglican liturgy and the Book of Common Prayer, which I now regard as huge treasures for the Church!

Thank you to all of you who walked with me in this long journey. I continue to rely on your prayers and guidance. May God continue blessing us all on this journey towards Christ and His Kingdom as simple followers of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Charity!

This is part 7 and final post of my series on the 7 virtues. Click here for part 6, and here for part 1.

It has been a looong 5 months. For one, I started attending graduate school for my theological degree. This has been an exciting, joyful and tiring experience. Secondly, my wife and I started a new ministry as house managers for a transitional house for recently arrived refugees.

Ministry has been an overwhelming experience in these past couples of months. We are housing two families, plus our foster daughter, in one flat. The 12 of us can barely fit in our spaces. As an introvert, I feel incredibly stretched out.

My current ministry experience has left me thinking a lot on the virtue of Charity. Let me explain why.

There is a member of our household that I'm finding a hard time to love. This member is a toddler whose default setting seems to be set on "cry." I know all toddlers are infamous for their tantrums but I am convinced we are dealing with a peculiar case here.

After many months of crying, tantrums, breaking havoc and little to no efforts to curb the child's behavior I am left with a sense of anger towards the child. This anger can at times feel like is edging towards hate. This realization, of course, leaves me greatly troubled. Am I really giving into hate?

There is a struggle that stirs constantly inside of me as I fight against any notions of hate. I want to love this child, not hate the child I tell myself. I'm starting to realize, however, that it is possible to love in the midst of feelings of anger, and yes, even feelings of hate.

The Virtue of Charity
What is the virtue of Charity? It is helpful to first describe what it is not. 

Charity is not just benevolent giving. Our common definition of charity can be limited to the act of giving to a non-profit institution. The fact that many of these institutions are called "charities" only adds validity to this limiting definition.

Charity, or Caritas in latin, can better be described as agape love, that is, a love that is not depended on or even connected to feelings, a love that seeks the best for others and is even willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the other.  Charity is not a matter of elusive and at times uncontrollable feelings. Charity is a matter of will.

We are surrounded by situations that can trigger in us a cocktail of emotions. Sometimes these emotions are too difficult to control. It is hard not to feel frustrated when we are late and stuck in a traffic jam, for example. If something as important and fundamental as love is dependent on feelings then we have little reasons to be hopeful for the future of the human race.

Jesus' command to love our enemies would be ludicrous under these circumstances.

Charity & The Holy Spirit
Charity is connected with the fruits of the Holy Spirit of Joy and, of course, Love that are found in Galatians 5.

Joy springs from the knowledge and experience of loving and being loved. For many of us, our most joyful experiences have been one of loving and being loved by God and by others. In fact, I remember distinctly how my early days of my conversion were filled with unspeakable joy.

As we have seen throughout this series on the 7 virtues, the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be considered in a hierarchical order, with Joy and Love being at the top of the ladder. For these reasons, Joy and Love are closely connected.

The Virtue of Charity for the Postmodern World
We can practice Charity by redeeming the word from the ethos of "benevolent giving." This ethos is not only reductionist but also cheapens Charity to a mere marketing term. Charity, or the giving to charities, is now something that one can buy with a donation.

Real Charity, however, is costly, and not merely in a monetary sense. Real Charity demands that all of our senses and beings (body, spirit, soul) are involved. Real Charity demands that we give ourselves to a cause, a group of people or an individual.

Real Charity demands more than our money (along with the tax returns benefits). Real Charity demands our whole selves. Real Charity is the most dangerous endeavor we can ever undertake.

Our world needs more committed people who are willing to give themselves up to something other than themselves. Our world needs us to move from inspiration to sacrifice. It needs not our catchphrases, our likes, and shares on social media. Our world needs our painful dedication.

Move beyond the realm of intellectual assent and verbal affirmations. Move instead into the realm of God, where to die is to live and to give is to gain.

Spend yourself in a ministry, a social justice cause, or the Other, and do so with agape love. Give until it hurts, for Charity demands that we get ourselves into uncomfortable positions that will shatter our comfort zones.

Practice the wild, unrestrained and risky virtue of Charity, the greatest of all virtues, for in its practice you will find life by dying to yourself.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Chastity!

This is part 6 of my series on the 7 virtues. Click here for part 5.

Chastity has been relegated to a bad word. It evokes images of a repressive and sexually frustrated fundamentalist who confuses Jesus for a Pharisee.

Unfortunately, as many things in our society, chastity has been heavily sexualized. Sure, we can practice chastity with our sexuality, but this is only a minor piece of what this virtue is about.

As we shall explore, chastity, when viewed holistically, becomes a beautiful and essential virtue.

The Virtue of Chastity
The virtue of chastity can be divided in three ways.

First, chastity is purity. Sexual purity is still an important aspect of the virtue of chastity, and while it should not be defined solely on sexual terms, we still can't ignore this important aspect. Sexual purity demands discretion of our sexual conduct according to our state of life. This looks different for all of us.

As a married man, for example, my sexual conduct should be different from that of a single man. It is no longer OK for me to seek the attention of another woman in a romantic way. We can see, then, that sexual chastity is for all of us, not just for the celibate.

One also practices purity from avoiding or limiting substances that are toxic to our bodies, and by maintaining cleanliness and basic hygiene.

Purity can also be achieved morally, by resisting temptation and corruption.

There are other, non-sexual ways to seek purity of course, as we shall see next.

Second, chastity is knowledge. Ignorance is dangerous. As it is obvious to many of us, ignorance creates countless suffering in our world. Knowledge, when undertaken with other virtues, but most importantly, with chastity, can be a way to create purity of thought. 

Knowledge without chastity, however, (without any sort of discretion or humility) will create snobbery, another type of ignorance. Snobbery is a delusion of the mind.

Third, chastity is honesty. The practice of chastity demands that we are honest with ourselves and others. By keeping our relationships pure, that is, without any hidden motives, we are creating honest relationships. The practice of honesty, then, it's inseparable from chastity.

Chastity is a mature form of the virtue of Temperance, because Temperance merely intents the controlling and the putting of boundaries. Chastity seeks much more than restrain. Chastity actively seeks the good and respect of others as well.

Chastity & The Holy Spirit
Chastity is connected to Love, the supreme fruit of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, the opposite of Love is not hate, but lust. Love, by its nature, seeks to give to the other. Love is the consistent attitude and action that seeks what is best for the other.

Lust, on the other hand, seeks to take away from the other. Lust diminishes individuals to the mere realm of utilities. Lust seeks to fulfill itself. Love seeks to fulfill the other.

This is why Chastity and Love must be connected. Chastity and Love are the perfect antidotes for the merciless greed of lust.

We are fooling ourselves if we think we can practice Love without practicing Chastity.

The Virtue of Chastity for a Postmodern World
We live in an oversexualized society. We live in a world where deep knowledge and reflection is reduced to bite-sized, googleable answers and catchphrases. We live in a world of hidden motives and shameless advertisements that makes us suspicious of each other.

We can practice Chastity by taking notice in all the ways we overly sexualize others and ourselves. Our sexuality is something to be relished and celebrated. But when our sexuality is used to take away from others and ourselves, when it seeks to only satisfy a desire at the the expense of the other, then we have reached the limits of Chastity and descended into the realm of lust.

We can also practice Chastity by avoiding quick answers and devoting time to deep knowledge and reflection.

It is easy to pretend we know stuff, what with all the easy answers available at the tip of our fingers and with a click of a mouse. It is common now to like and share articles on social media without even reading them and reflecting on them.

This creates the illusion of knowledge, without the toils and hard work of true knowledge. It reduces knowledge to information. It reduces thought to entertainment.

Deep thought and reflection requires time and meticulous work. It requires exploring the issue from multiple angles. Purity of thought is not something we establish by superficial gathering of bits of information and one minute videos.

Finally, we can practice Chastity by being straightforward about our intents and motives. No one can claim purity of motives, and that's OK. But the worst we can do is to pretend purity of motives, and hide ourselves under a cloud of piety.

Let's be honest about our imperfections and our biases, as this will create clearer expectations and create the base for purer motives.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Patience!

This is part 5 of my series on the Seven Heavenly Virtues for the Postmodern World. Click here for part 4.

One weekday morning, I was trying to read on a bus on my way to work. Public transportation can be ideal for this, but at other times, it can be inconvenient.

The bus was almost empty, so I was expecting a quiet time before work. This had lasted for a few minutes, when two students boarded the bus. One of them, a guy, was pursuing this girl who seemed uninterested in his advances.

She sat behind me (of all the empty seats!) but sat in the outer seat so not to give space for the guy to seat beside her. He, not dissuaded by her subtle dissing, sat next me so he could be in front of her.

He turns around and tries to have a conversation with her. In doing so he was shifting constantly, and for some odd reason, beating the seat rhythmically as he spoke. Our seat was shaking, and by his constant movement he kept constantly bumping into me.

I was incredibly annoyed.

I have two options, I thought, I could tell him to stop moving and bumping into me and ask him to stop beating our seat OR I could practice patience and ask God to offer me the strength to do so. I have read this advice from many saints: you can take every difficult or inconvenient situation as an opportunity to practice virtues.

And so I prayed: God, please help me to practice patience. It seemed to me, unfortunately, that God heard my prayer.

They guy kept making beats through our seat and he kept shifting constantly. I was unable to read.

Thankfully, he got off the bus a few stops after that. Two other guys, however, got on the bus at the same stop. I thought they were fighting, as one of them was screaming. He didn't seem angry, however.

I soon realized he wasn't screaming, he just spoke incredibly loud, apparently gifted by God with an integrated mic and speakers. They decided to sit behind me. I started laughing. Be careful what you pray for, I thought. Throughout the whole ride, the lively gentleman kept having peaceful shouting matches with his bewildered companion.

I was, of course, unable to read my book.

The Virtue of Patience
The virtue of patience, or longsuffering, is the ability to go through seemingly unbearable or difficult situations with a sense of harmony and peace. It is also active waiting. There may be many reasons we would be asked to wait, and by doing so with peace and harmony we are practicing patience.

Patience is also showing mercy to people we think don't deserve mercy. Mercy and patience are two sides of the same coin.

I am an incredibly impatient individual. If my computer is not working, for example, I feel very tempted to throw it out of the window, go out with a hammer, and slam it into bits and pieces. I still have my computer so it doesn't happen that often.

I hate ordering things online because I hate waiting for them to arrive. I hate not having a microwave (for health reasons) because I'd prefer to have my food heated up in a few minutes instead of waiting 20 minutes to heat in the oven.

Because of this, God has put me in many situations where He has asked me to wait. He also provides me with many opportunities, like the ones mentioned above, to help me practice the virtue of patience. When I practice listening prayer, it seems to me half the time He's asking me to wait.

Patience & The Holy Spirit
Patience is also the sixth fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5. It is only after practicing patience that we can better practice peace, joy, and ultimately, love.

Without patience we lack the solid foundation to practice peace in the middle of shifting circumstances, joy in the middle of suffering and difficulties, and love with mercy and compassion.

Patience is also connected with Peace, the seventh fruit of the Holy Spirit. Peace is not simply a lack of conflict. Peace is not lack, but an abundance of something. Peace comes from a rooted knowledge of our standing with God, and therefore, the world around us.

It is only with Peace that comes from God that we can withstand with longsuffering difficult situations with harmony, because our peace dwells from a deeper sense of our being with God, and not our being with  our circumstances around us.

The Virtue of Patience for a Postmodern World
The virtue of patience, in a world where we are accustomed to our computers and internet service being fast, our food heated in a few minutes, and where instant gratification (and instant connectedness) is a sought-after feature, is a challenging virtue to practice.

First, we can practice patience by utilizing most inconvenient, uncomfortable, or difficult situations as opportunities to grow and develop. This has to be a free choice, however. I am not advocating that you feel compelled to allow people to cross your boundaries or abuse you under the name of practicing virtues.

There are circumstances, however, when it is OK to use the opportunity to practice patience by practicing mercy and momentarily giving up your right to complain. (If you are in an abusive situation, however, this is not recommended, and assertive action would be necessary and healthy.)

There are many other times, however, where there is nothing that can be done in a situation to improve it, and the practice of patience is perfect for those situations. Being stuck in traffic comes to mind as a prime example.

By making a mental shift and seeing those difficult and annoying situations as opportunity to practice patience instead of simple inconveniences, your growth will be monumental. The obstacle becomes the way.

Second, if you are involved in a cause that is dear to your heart, you can practice patience not only with the people who are actively against said cause, but also at the slow progress that some movements have.

By practicing patience, you realize that your struggle will be for the long haul, and will probably outlive you. Healthy, non-violent social change requires a cultural shift in our population, and this will undoubtedly take many years, even decades, to fully realize.

There are no easy and quick tips to social change. There are small, incremental steps that keep adding up through the years. Violence can bring fast and temporal social change, but this will inevitably breed more social disparities, divisions, and wounds.

By practicing patience, we are acknowledging that our efforts, however small, will slowly bring the social change we so desire.

In what ways do you practice patience? How can more patience help you in your life? Share in the comments below!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The 7 Virtues for The Postmodern World - Kindness!

This is part 4 of the 7 heavenly virtues series. To start on part 1, click here.

Western culture often struck me as a "straight up" culture. Things were sometimes told directly, with no beating around the bush, so to speak.

This was presented as a good thing. Many times, however, it felt harsh to me. In encounters where things were spoken to me "straight up," I often felt hurt. This happened so many times that I began to wonder if there was something wrong with me.

Maybe I'm just too sensitive, I thought.

While it is true that I am sensitive person, and that being direct with people is also a good thing, I do think that  in our culture we have forgotten the virtue of kindness and juxtaposed it with truth-telling.

The Virtue of Kindness
What is kindness?  Let us first define by what it is not. Kindness is not just being "nice" to each other. Kindness has little to do with being nice.

Nice is easy and even cowardly. Kindness is courageous and self-giving. Kindness exposes your being in an unselfish manner. Nice hides your being and real feelings and protects it with a mask.

Kindness is benevolence towards the other; it is loyalty, compassion, empathy, and trust.

Kindness is especially essential when it comes to truth-telling. Truth-telling without kindness can be misused to hurt the other. When we get angry at someone, and we feel compelled to make it clear to them, truth can take the form of a weapon used in vengeance against the offender.

Truth-telling combined with being "nice" compromises the truth. We may think that being nice is a way to protect others from hurt, but most often we are protecting ourselves from uncomfortable situations. If we dare to speak truth into somebody's life, we compromise the truth in order to make it less hurtful to us.

Truth-telling with kindness, however, seeks the well-being of the other. It takes into consideration the context. If we discern that the truth will not be heard then in kindness we abstain from telling it. With kindness we seek ways to tell the truth that are selfless and filled with compassion.

Truth is better received when it is sweetened by compassion and mercy.

Kindness & The Holy Spirit
The virtue of kindness is connected with goodness and kindness, the fourth and fifth fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5.

Goodness, as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, is good that is integral to our very being. It is concerned more with kindness than it is with righteousness. It is good in a self-giving way, not in a self-righteous way.

Kindness as a fruit of the Holy Spirit denotes more than just moral goodness and integrity, or just being kind. The word chrestotes, which we usually translate as kindness, can also be translated as 'usefulness.'

A person full of the virtue of kindness is also extremely useful. They go beyond kind words into the realm of actions for the good of others. Kindness demands selfless service of others. A useful person is also humble, willing to be pliable to the will of God and pliable in service of others.

The Virtue of Kindness for a Postmodern World
We live in a world where prophetic truth-telling is needed. We live in a world where we need to constantly speak truth to power.

In doing so, however, we must not forget the value of kindness, for it is with this virtue that the truth is most beneficial.

We can be very tempted, and even feel justified, to speak truth in an angry and hurtful way. It is true that there are moments that truth must be spoken with anger, depending on the context. The problem comes when we say the truth only when we are angry.

More often than not, the virtue of kindness should accompany and aid us whenever we speak truth, especially in situations where hurt and emotions are involved.

By telling truth with kindness we are giving witness to the power of truth as light. Light and truth are powerful enough and need no extra aid to be effective.

As prophetic witnesses against injustice, we should exercise the unaided power of light to shine away the darkness. There is no need to be forceful. Shine light and allow the light to do the rest. Nothing else is necessary.

Be kind to others, especially those opposed to your cause. By being kind you are demonstrating your concern for the other, remembering that the oppressor is no more free than the oppressed. Oppression is a prison that jails both the oppressor and the oppressed.

Practice kindness with all, even those who need some serious truth-telling.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Diligence!

This is part 3 of my series on the 7 heavenly virtues. For part I, Temperance, click here. For part 2, Humility, click here.

Oh diligence! If there was ever a virtue that is hardest to work on!

Diligence brings to mind the notion of hard work. We have limited diligence to the realm of work, or that which we get paid to do. We may imagine someone who is diligent as a restless person, one who is so opposite of lazy that it is impossible for them to sit still without having something to do.

When diligence is so interconnected to work, however, we distort the virtue itself.

Diligence is much more than hard work, however, and has applications outside our professional lives, as we shall explore.

What is Diligence?
Diligence, simply speaking, is steadfast application. Someone who is steadfast is someone who is faithful, reliable and committed.

We see then, that diligence is much more than hard work. Diligence also calls us to be unwavering in what we do. You might be able to work hard, but that doesn't make you a diligent person. If you, however, work faithfully, then you are beginning to practice the virtue of diligence.

Diligence & The Holy Spirit
Diligence is connected with faithfulness, the third fruit of the Holy Spirit listed on Galatians 5. Once we have worked on self-control and gentleness, the first two, we have a solid foundation to work on faithfulness, and as a consequence, on diligence.

Diligence and faithfulness are two sides of the same coin. When we do our part, we do so with faith that God will take care of the rest. We know that hard work alone doesn't bring immediate success. When hard work is combined with faithfulness, however, we trust that God is still in control even if our efforts don't end in success.

Like Mother Teresa famously said, God doesn't call us to be successful, but to be faithful.

If hard work is disconnected from faithfulness, hard work will be invariably connected to success. When success doesn't come, we lose the motivation for hard work.

If hard work is connected to faithfulness, however, our efforts will be nourished by the faith and reliance that God will work out even our failures for good. Success doesn't even come to the picture. A focus on success is ultimately reliance on men. A focus on faithfulness is ultimately reliance on God.

It is only with faithfulness that hard work can reach the dignity of the virtue of diligence.

Hard work alone is a counterfeit of diligence. Diligence is therefore, a deeply faithful enterprise.

The Virtue of Diligence for a Postmodern World
How can we practice diligence in our postmodern society?

We start by disconnecting the expectation of hard work from success and reconnecting it with faithfulness. We live in a world of instant gratifications and productivity. We do A and we expect B. If A doesn't produce B (B being success, of course) we then deem the whole enterprise a failure.

This can be true in certain situations, but it makes the value of effort A contingent on result B. In simpler terms, the end justifies the means. This is what is usually called teleological ethics, where the end (teleos) is the focus of any action or work.

Connecting hard work with faithfulness, however, is what transforms this virtue into a deontological ethic, that is, we do A because A is good. Loving our enemies can be an example of a deontological ethic: we love not because it may be effective, or to produce expected results. We simply love because, one, it is our calling, and two, because the "other", the enemy, is still an image bearer.

It is true that loving our enemies has the potential to transform our enemies, and someone may be able to pursue love of enemies teleologically. This, however, doesn't always happen, and we may find ourselves in situations where we love our enemies despite their lack of transformation.

It is also the case that many efforts don't bring the expected immediate results, but they might bring fruits many years down the line. This is where faith comes into the picture: we may not be able to always predict where a good work may lead, but we entrust our efforts to God that can use even our own failures.

The virtue of diligence can also be applied to many social issues: we work on social justice issues even if it is inconvenient and even if it demands sacrifices from us, simply because it is what we are called to do. We find that many social issues, like the welcoming of immigrants, a livable wage, and caring for the environment are issues that not only may have little to no return to us, since these are fights that will probably continue for many generations.

In a world that is inundated with pragmatism, the virtue of diligence can be transforming.

How do you define diligence? In what way do you practice diligence?

Friday, April 8, 2016

The 7 Virtues for the Postmodern World - Humility!

This post took me a little over two weeks to write. My excuse for this was going to be a convenient Spring break. Holy Week was very taxing, and I felt I needed a break from writing.

This is, however, just part of the story.

The other, less convenient part of the story is that I didn't want to write this post. Why not? Reflecting on this, I realized there were two main reasons. The first is that I felt wildly unqualified to write it. I have a small sense of my lack of humility, and that sense tells me there is a lot of unquestioned pride in my being. The second reason is that, sometimes, I don't want to think too much about virtues at all.

Like I wrote in my first post on this topic, virtues seem like some archaic, medieval, and legalistic way of seeing our faith. Of course, I mentally know this is not true, but being inundated in the post-modern culture that I am, it is hard not to feel that way from time to time.

My Lack of Humility
I recently took a class in hermeneutics at a small, local theological school. This school offers classes in Spanish with affordable tuition. This is a great alternative for those of us who can't afford the usual seminary tuition, or who haven't completed the academic requirements to be accepted into one.

Since many of my classmates have not gone to college like I had, there was a sense of superiority that I was, for the most part, unaware of. This gave me an overconfidence in this class, and I felt a special sense of giftedness that I revelled in.

In one of our assignments for the hermeneutics class, we had to present a written sermon, interpreting a passage. I did so, satisfied with my interpretation. I felt so sure and confident on my paper that I expected some good remarks from my professor.

What I got in response was more mixed: great interpretation, but I'm taking away points for not including a thesis statement.

In my great pride, I forgot to include something as basic as a thesis statement!

You can see why I feel unprepared to write this post.

What is Humility?
Humility is truth my spiritual director once told me. That phrase has stuck with me ever since.

Humility, as I understand it, is a truthful consideration of one's own gifts and abilities, along with an accurate understanding of one's flaws and limitations. In this sense, one can see that humility is indeed truth.

Humility is therefore not self-contempt or having low self-esteem. Humility is not shy to recognize one's skills and talents, but it is also not embarrassed to recognize limitations and weaknesses.

This adherence to a true assessment of who we are prevents us from indulging in narcissistic over-confidence that often stems from fear of not being sufficient. Humility is birthed from the knowledge that we are beautifully created out of love, and despite all of our flaws and past mistakes, we are overwhelmingly sufficient.

Humility recognizes that even though we may not be the best at this or that, we are still made for love, and as a consequence, we are inherently lovable.

Humility is also the virtue that gives way to the other virtues. It is the base where the edifice of a virtuous character is built.

Humility & The Holy Spirit
Humility is connected with gentleness, the second gift of the Holy Spirit that is listed in Galatians 5. As I mentioned in my last post, I believe these gifts are listed in a hierarchal order, and that one should start working on those gifts from the bottom up, starting from self-control.

The Greek word praotēs, usually translated as gentleness, can also be translated as meekness. Some Bibles even translate it to humility. The correct practice of temperance and self-control will naturally give birth to humility and gentleness.

When one practices temperance and self-control outwardly, in pharisaic fashion, without focusing on the inner life practice of the virtue, it will lead to harshness and pride, which are the opposite of gentleness and humility.

The Virtue of Humility in a Postmodern World
In this age of narcissism, the practice of humility is sorely needed.

First, make an active effort to recognize how dependant we really are on each other. If you are glad of your current condition in life, ponder on how other people helped you to get where you are, either directly or indirectly.

Our successes are usually a community effort. I'm sure if you think long enough of how you got to where you are, you will find many people to thank and recognize.

Second, whenever you find yourself in a position to volunteer, try to volunteer in the least desirable activity. Putting ourselves in a position we deem as 'unworthy' will help us fight that inner voice that insists on getting the best place in every situation. Practicing self-denial in a service of love toward others is a very effective way of practicing humility.

Third,  find an authentic authority that you are able to respect, and submit to it. In a society of self-made humans, this is probably the most controversial suggestion. To be under someone's authority seems oppressive and antiquated. It can bring to mind authoritarian nightmares.

But notice that I mention two criteria that must be met before submission to authority: one, an authority that is authentic, and not simply arbitrary. Two, an authority that inspires your respect.

If you are able to find an elder, spiritual director, or someone you respect and admire to take you under their wing, a person whom you trust and whom you know loves you, then being under their mentorship should be a great experience. Moreover, having this type of elder should help you grow in all areas, and more relevant to our topic, grow more humble.

This elder will not only help you grow in many virtues, including humility, but also help you in making obedience to God more a delight than a simple duty. This is perhaps the most important step, as I believe that the loss of eldership in the west has brought a lot of denigration to our culture.

What are other things that have helped you grow in humility?
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