The Lowest Place
Presence of God— O Jesus, You who said, “The Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Matthew 20:28), teach me to love the lowest place.
Jesus has proved to us not only in words, but also by example, that He came not to be ministered unto but to minister. This example He gave on the eve of His Passion, as if to leave it to us as a testament, together with His last and most precious instructions. Before instituting the Holy Eucharist, Jesus like a common slave, “began to wash the feet of the disciples,” and when He had finished, said: “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also,” for “the servant is not greater than his lord; neither is the apostle greater than He that sent him” (John 13:15,16). The instruction is clear: to be true disciples of Jesus, we must humble ourselves as He did. Note that here it is not only a question of humbling ourselves before God, but also before our neighbor. To consider ourselves servants in our relations with God is not difficult, but to do so in dealing with others will call for real effort. It is harder still to let ourselves be treated like servants without any attention or consideration, and even by those who are our inferiors. Yet Jesus, infinitely superior to all, willed to be treated not only as a servant, but as a slave and even as a malefactor.
Just as humility makes us recognize our place of inferiority and absolute dependence before God, so too does it assign us to the “lowest place” in relation to our neighbor. “Woe to you, because you love the uppermost seats in the synagogues” (Luke 11:43), said Jesus to the Pharisees, condemning their desire for the first places, for honorable duties and positions, and He added, “When thou art invited, go, sit down in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). As far as we are able, wherever we are, we must seek the last place doing so with such simplicity and naturalness that no one who notices us will come and invite us to go up to the first place. We must expect that invitation only from God, and not in this life but in the next.
“O Lord, when You were a pilgrim here below, You said, ‘Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ My soul finds its rest in seeing You, the powerful Monarch of the Heavens, clothed in the form and nature of a slave, humbling Yourself to wash the feet of Your Apostles. Then I recall the words You spoke to teach me how to practice humility: ‘I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also…. The servant is not greater than his lord…. If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them’ (John 13:15-17). With the help of Your grace, O Lord, I understand these words which came from Your gentle, humble heart; and with the help of Your grace I wish to put them into practice. “I want to abase myself humbly and submit my will to others, not contradicting them nor asking if they have the right to give me orders. No one had this right over You and yet You were obedient, not only to the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph but even to Your executioners.
“O Lord, You could not humble Yourself any more in order to teach me humility. That is why I want to respond to Your love by putting myself in the lowest place and by sharing Your humiliations, so as to be able to share the kingdom of heaven with You hereafter. I beg You, divine Jesus, send me a humiliation every time I try to put myself above others. But Lord, You know my weakness; every morning I make a resolution to practice humility, and every evening I acknowledge that I still have many failures. I am tempted to be discouraged by this, but I know that discouragement also has its source in pride. That is why I prefer to put my trust in You alone, O my God. Since You are all-powerful, deign to create in my soul the virtue for which I long” (St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus).
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Art: Photography of St. Thérèse, Gravure de “Sainte Thérèse de l’Enfant Jésus, Histoire d’une âme écrite par elle-même, Lisieux, Office central de Lisieux (Calvados), & Bar-le-Duc, Imprimerie Saint-Paul, 1937, édition 1940.” PD-US, copyright expired, Wikimedia Commons; Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.