Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

IN EXILE

February 8, 2016

At the end of every Roman Catholic liturgy, the people are invited to receive a blessing. That invitation is worded this way: Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing. The idea behind that, obviously, is that a blessing can only truly be received in reverence, in humility, with head bowed, with pride and arrogance subjugated and silent.

A bowed head is a sign of humility and is understood, almost universally, as our proper spiritual posture. Spiritual writers have rarely questioned or felt the need to nuance the notion that spiritual health means a head bowed in humility. But is it really that simple?

Admittedly, there is a lot of wisdom in that. A head bowed in reverence is a sign of humility. Moreover, pride heads the list of deadly sins. Human pride is congenital, deep and impossible to uproot. It can be redeemed and it can be crushed, but it always remains in us, necessarily so.

There is no health without pride, but pride can also derail health. Something inside of human nature, inherent in our individuality and freedom, does not like to bend the knee before what is higher and superior. We guard our pride fiercely, and it is no accident that the archetypal image of resistance to God is expressed in Lucifer's inflexible, pride-anchored statement: "I will not serve!"

Moreover, we do not like to admit weakness, finitude, dependence and interdependence. Thus all of us have to mature to a place where we are no longer naïve and arrogant enough to believe we do not need God's blessing.

All spirituality is predicated on humility. Maturity, human and spiritual, is most evident in someone whom you see on his or her knees praying.

But, while pride can be bad, sometimes pride and arrogance are not the problem. Rather our struggle is with a wounded, broken spirit that no longer knows how to stand upright. It is one thing to be young, healthy, strong, arrogant and unaware of how fragile and finite we are (an illusion that can stay with us into old age), but it is quite another thing to have one's heart broken, one's spirit crushed and one's pride taken away.

When that happens, and it happens to all of us if we are half-sensitive and live long enough, wounded pride does negative things in us. It cripples us so we can no longer truly get off our knees, stand upright, raise our heads, and receive love and blessing.

As a child growing up on a farm, I watched something that was then called "breaking a horse." The men would catch a young colt which had until then run completely free and they would, through a brutal process, force the colt to submit to halter, saddle and human commands.

When the process was finished, the colt was now compliant to human commands. But the process of breaking the horse's freedom and spirit was far from gentle, and thus yielded a mixed result. The horse was now compliant, but part of its spirit was broken.

That's an apt image for the journey, both human and spiritual. Life, in ways that are far from gentle, eventually breaks our spirit, for good and for bad, and we end up humble. However, we also end up somewhat wounded and unable to (metaphorically) stand upright.

PAIN OF BROKENNESS

Conscripted humility has a double effect: On the one hand, we find we more naturally genuflect before what is higher; on the other hand, because of the pain of our brokenness, we focus more upon ourselves than on others and end up handicapped. Bruised and fragile, we are unable to properly give and receive and are stuttering and reticent in sharing the goodness and depth of our own persons.

Spirituality and religion have, for the most part, been one-sided on this. They have perennially been vigilant about pride and arrogance, but have been too slow to lift up the fallen.

COMFORTING THE AFFLICTED

We all know the dictum that the task of spirituality is to afflict the comforted and comfort the afflicted. Historically, religion and spirituality, while not always being successful with the former, have been too negligent of the latter.

Pride and arrogance are the deadliest of all vices. However, wounded pride and a broken spirit can equally derail us.

So, perhaps when the Church blesses its congregation at the end of a liturgy, it might, instead of saying: Bow your heads and pray for God's blessing, say: Those of you who think you are not in need of this blessing: Please bow your heads and pray for God's blessing. Meanwhile those of you who feel beaten, broken and unworthy of this blessing: Raise your heads to receive a love and gift that you have long despaired of ever again receiving.

(Website: www.ronrolheiser.com)