“The specifically Christian humility is learned in no other way than by formal and repeated humiliations.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, To the Heart of the Mystery of Redemption)
It was in that moment—as the priest lifted the host high above his head so that it was in front of the crucifix on the back wall—that I saw it.
I saw that this crucified Lord, this humiliated Lord, hanging bloody and bowed on a cross of wood, is the same Lord who comes to us in the broken bread and the blood-red wine. He comes to us, again and again, humiliated, offering Himself to those who do not deserve Him. Yet He also comes glorified. He offers His glory to those who will join in His humiliation.
It is all too beautiful to comprehend, but let us try.
The cross is a scene of intense humiliation. The dictionary defines “to humiliate” as “to cause (a person) a painful loss of pride, self-respect, or dignity; mortify.” It is hard to think of Christ as being humiliated. Certainly He did not have any pride to lose as He suffered at Calvary. But He lost, and even gave up of his own will, all of His dignity. He hung on the cross—naked, cursed, despised, rejected. God Himself was humiliated before mankind.
So too, in a smaller way, the humiliated Lord comes to us in the the Holy Sacrament. He deigns to come to us through earthly substances; He condescends and gives up His dignity and allows His very being to be communicated through grain and the fruit of the vine. Even more humiliating, He enters people who do not deserve the purity and the majesty of the Lord. We hardly deserve to sit in His presence, let alone literally ingest Him and take His being into our very being.
Yet the beauty of Christ’s humiliation is that it is the source of His glorification. The humiliated Lord was glorified by the Father and is now sitting in glory among the angels and the saints. So, too, we praise Him daily for His humiliation. We glorify Him for His lowliness. Because He was cast-down, He is raised up.
Perhaps, in the same way, then, our moments of humiliation are those moments that are most pregnant with the chances for our own glorification. Changing dirty diapers, messing up at work, suffering ridicule for the sake of our beliefs, realizing again and again just how dark our hearts truly are. These are the things of humiliation. And so, too, they are the things of glorification, if we allow them to be.
Hans Urs von Balthasar writes of how Mary is often humiliated by Christ: when Jesus calls her “woman,” when He says His mother is those who hear God’s word, when He removes His sonship from her upon the cross (“Woman, behold your son!”). These humiliations, as Balthasar writes, are “constant training in the naked faith Mary will need under the Cross.” This training makes her able to say “yes” again and again to all that being the mother of the Lord means. “He himself is the first one to wield the sword that must pierce her. But how else would she have become ready to stand by the Cross, where not only her Son’s earthly failure, but also his abandonment by the God who sends him is revealed.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mary, the Church at the Source)
Christ’s dealings with Mary, in a sense, seem utterly backwards. Yet they are His greatest love. For she suffers the deepest humiliations, culminating in the very death of her own son, yet she now knows the highest of glorifications. She lives with her son, in glory, the Queen of Heaven, Star of the Sea, Seat of Wisdom, Mystical Rose, Help of Christians. The humiliations that Mary suffered made her ready for glory.
So, too, do our humiliations. We must stand by the cross with Mary, and with her offer our “yes” to every humiliation that the Lord offers us as we know that He is inviting us, ever so generously, to glory.