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Philippa Martyr: Everyone must learn humility the hard way

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Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti, c. 1320. Image: Frans VandewalleFollow/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED

Palm Sunday at last! I’ve found the last few weeks of Lent quite challenging. It turns out that I need to work much harder on all the virtues I’ve been writing about.

The best and hardest comes last. Pride is most people’s root sin, the one that drives all the others they commit.

It was also the original sin we committed as human beings. The only cure for the vice of pride is the virtue of humility.

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And the only way you learn humility is through humiliations. Sorry about that.

Palm Sunday is a great day to talk about humility because Holy Week is a series of humiliations for Jesus. It starts with the high of Palm Sunday and ends in what looks like disaster for everyone.

The door to the kingdom of heaven is small and low, and you must be like a child to enter it. But most of us are far too big (in our own minds, at least) for our own good.

This means God allows us to be “brought low.” He allows us to feel the law of consequences, and to realise that we really need him after all.

But humiliation won’t bring you the virtue of humility unless you accept it properly as a spiritual boot camp. Otherwise, it can lead to mental disorders, divorces, addictions, or worse.

We all experience failures. Some are our fault, and others are caused by people letting us down.

In the spiritual boot camp of humiliation, you will face the reality that you are a creature, not the creator. You need God, not the other way around.

It’s also a place where you can learn the great tenderness of God for you personally. He sees your struggles but needs you to learn how to fail while holding his hand.

When you’re full of yourself and your own achievements, it’s very hard for God to get a look in. You become like the smug Pharisee who prayed to himself (Luke 18:9-14).

God is playing for very high stakes. He wants you to know him and love him now, so that when you die, you will know him and love him for eternity.

This will make you supremely happy both here and there, so it’s all in your own best interests. But he’s also left you free to make choices in this life.

The only way through this minefield is for him to let you make stupid choices if you insist on it, but then to let you feel the results for yourself. This usually comes in the form of humiliations.

God loves you far too much to allow you to float about like a big gassy balloon of self-admiration. He will pop the balloon, but in the kindest and most merciful way he can find.

It may not feel very kind or merciful to you at the time. But I believe that God always takes you the most merciful way through life that he can find for you, based on your choices.

If you think you’re the exception, and that God is giving you an especially hard time right now, perhaps you might like to think about your life choices up to this point.

(And if you’re a victim soul, then you already accept all this and don’t need to keep reading.)

Some humiliations also come from other people’s stupid choices, like malice and selfishness. To be unjustly accused, to be robbed, or to have people reject you because of lies, are all truly awful things.

Humiliations like this can teach you that God is a God of justice. He is one who vindicates, and in whose hands it’s always best to leave any injustice.

God can and will sort it out if you trust him. But you must trust him and not take the law into your own hands.

This is really hard for people like me who are set on fire by injustice (especially when I’m on the receiving end).

I have to learn to let God put the fire out now, so that I don’t carry it into the next life and have to endure it eternally.

Holy Week was a tough week for Jesus. It’s also often a tough week for people trying to live a good spiritual life, so don’t worry if things go wrong.

Use your all your failures this week to come back to God, and find your way through the low, small door into his kingdom.

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