As human persons, we often tend to have grand ideas for ourselves and about ourselves. This is no less the case for Catholics or Christians – we, too, are prone to this sense of ego.
It’s one of the things Our Lord counsels us in the Gospels – that we must deny ourselves in order that we might be able to follow Him more perfectly. Love of self and the love of God (and neighbour) tend to be polar opposites. One always gets in the way of the other.
Although every one of us is called to holiness, as we are reminded so very clearly by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, we are not necessarily called to greatness in the eyes of the world, much as we might wish to be. While the two do sometimes go together, it seems to be far more common for our paths to holiness to be quiet, hidden, silent and mundane.
I read something recently in which a woman said she always had a desire to be great, “to be a martyr or something like that“. The thing is, our desire might not match the desire God has for us. He offers the best path for us – the one which is scattered with graces of every sort and which, if we make the best possible use of them, will lead us along the way of sanctity. And by that, I mean authentic sanctity – not our romantic notions of it. Choosing our own path, on the other hand, is almost certainly the way of ruin as we are so fallible and far more egocentric than we would admit even to ourselves.
In the lives of the Saints, there are numerous accounts of those who held the very least positions in society and in religious life and who found their path to holiness precisely there, in the kitchen, at a sewing machine, amongst the poor and with the forsaken.
Perhaps that is why the Lord reminds us – rather acutely and more than a little wryly, I think – that “the first will be last and the last will be first”.
We have no better example of the principle I am trying to describe here, than the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Gospels recount very few words spoken by Her. We don’t even know so very much about Her except in relation to Her Son. He is the divine light which She reflects in the midst of Her smallness, littleness and silence. And that, She does perfectly.
We could do worse than to look ever so carefully and lingeringly at Her – and to try to learn something from the example She sets before us.