Humility: How Jesus and Saint Francis Turned My Life Upside Down

What is true humility? Our culture tells us not to be doormats, not to let others walk all over us. Christ tells us to turn the other cheek and to rejoice in the face of persecution.  

On day twenty-three of Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly, after hinting at the radical surrender that Jesus call us to, says in a more blatant way that he actually wants to turn our entire lives upside down. Jesus never wants us to get comfortable or complacent, so he likes to shake things up once in a while! More than anything, he loves turning upside down the world’s values, our plans and how we relate to one another. In other words, he wants to humble us, he wants the last to be first, and the first to be last.

Saint Francis: Walking on his hands towards humility

Since I was in a Franciscan community, it is only natural that Jesus taught me his version of radical humility through Saint Francis. Francis literally had his life turned upside down.

A turning point for Francis was his encounter with the leper. Francis described this experience in his Testament: “while I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world.”

After meeting the Leper, Francis retreated to an isolated cave to repent for his life of sin and seek the Lord’s will for his life. In the literal darkness of a cave, Francis came face to face with the darkness in his heart. In this cave Francis was forced “to look at the truth in himself.” (Brunette, 32) G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of St. Francis, which happens to be the first one I read, paints a vivid picture of the complete change in perspective that took place in Francis during this time. “The man who went into the cave was not the same man who came out again…He looked at the world as differently from other men as if he had come out of that dark hole walking on his hands.

He goes on to describe what might be the result of looking at the world upside down. Everything would look like it is hanging from the sky and buildings that seem so strong and steady suddenly seem fragile. In short, by looking at the world from this perspective, one realizes how dependent the world is on God – that He literally holds everything in existence.

What does Saint Francis say about humility?

In his admonitions to his brothers he wrote, ‘What a man is in God’s eyes, that he is and nothing more’ Humility means accepting the truth of who God is and who I am. How do we avoid despair at our littleness and weakness before God? Because Jesus made himself weak and little first. Francis recognized that in the incarnation Christ had made himself the lowest and humblest of all. Therefore, the further Francis descended the closer he came to Christ. He could never outdo Christ, who was always lower and more humble!

As I have grown closer to Christ, especially through meditating on the gospels, I have been continually blown away by his radical humility, which he calls us to imitate. Jesus, who is the all powerful, omnipotent God, emptied himself.  He “grew in knowledge and wisdom.”  He came as a little baby who knew nothing!  This is the reason He came: “the Son of God came down from the height of his Father’s bosom to our lowly estate so that our Lord and Teacher might teach humility in both word and example”(LM 2:1).

Jesus came down and looked up

The moment, the “pearl” that opened my eyes, that turned everything I thought I knew about Christ upside down, is found in the story of the woman caught in adultery. I always imagine this scene as it is shown in The Passion. The woman is on the ground and Jesus lifts her up. So when I read the scripture passage carefully I was SHOCKED.

“…Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

Jesus is on the ground! [bctt tweet=”He looks up at each one of us and says I do not condemn you, no matter what you have done, I do not condemn you!” username=”victoriaclariz1″] The Cantata of Love, a commentary on the Song of Songs says: “His love made him so small that he sees his beloved high about him: ‘Here I am,” the Lord says, ‘among you as one who serves you.’ Master and Lord, to be sure, but at the feet of his people…The ascent of love is, in the last analysis, accomplished by him.”

This ascent is the ascent of the cross. And this is where facing my weakness and poverty leads me- to the feet of Jesus once again, to the foot of the cross. By fixing my gaze on the cross I am saved from drowning in self-pity. I see how poor, how weak, how humiliated Jesus was willing to become for me and am given the strength to return the same sacrifice to him.

To see ourselves as we are before the cross: this is humility.  To see that we are the cause of His wounds, yet the object of His mercy and love: this is humility. To see how little we are at the foot of the cross: this is humility.

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