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On graduation and humility

It is the season of diplomas and honors, recognition and resumes. As the flurry swirls around me, I find myself thinking increasingly of humility. When a young person sets out on the course of finding his life's work, nothing will serve him better than humility. This time of year serves as a powerful reminder to all of us that God cannot choose us - cannot use us - until we come to the end of ourselves and find Him. As long as we rest upon our laurels, we cannot lean into Him.

It is tempting to define ourselves by our degrees or titles or accomplishments. We have to avoid this temptation by seeing ourselves as we really are before God: We are lacking. We are sinful. We are weak. Indeed, if that resume is packed with excellent items and that degree comes with accolades and honors, we must be ever more mindful of the weight that is the gifts He has given to us. How do those gifts look next to our sins?

St. Francis de Sales writes, "Nothing so tends to humble us before the Mercy of God as the multitude of His gifts to us; just as nothing so tends to humble us before His Justice as the multitude of our misdeeds."

On the crest of the waves of graduation, we spend so much time thinking about our worth. We weigh our value relative to those graduating with us, those who graduated before us, those who will be competing for the same jobs. And there is a nearly overwhelming temptation to quantify our self-worth by misjudging the value of the accolades of the seasons. This is when conscience should begin to prick.

If we are still and quiet and honest, we know ourselves in a way that no one else knows us. We know our shortcomings, our failures, our out-and-out sins. We know that without God we are nothing. Then tension between the praise of the world and the inner knowledge of our great lack can cause overwhelming anxiety. Don't let it. That tension should be cause for celebration. It can bring us to the place God wants us to be.

Again, we gratefully listen to St. Francis de Sales, "Self-love is one of the sources of our anxiety; the other is our high regard for ourselves. Why are we troubled to find that we have committed a sin or even an imperfection? Because we thought ourselves to be something good, firm and solid. And therefore, when we have seen the proof to the contrary, and have fallen on our faces in the dirt, we are troubled, offended and anxious."

That tension between the accolades of the world and our own self-knowledge could save lives. We find God facedown in the dirt. The man who takes his diploma gratefully in his hands knowing that he holds it only by the grace of God and that it will forever be a tool to use to find the place God intends for him to be and work and serve, is the man who can be truly joyful at graduation.

At the same time, if graduation finds you feeling as if you aren't as worthy as the kid with the higher GPA or the lengthier resume, please understand that God wants you. He sees you. He loves you. And He knows the aching of your uncertain heart. He wants the young person who has confidence only in the power of the Holy Spirit to use a weak and humble being to do great things for his Lord.

God cannot use us as long as we are serving our own purposes. God wants the person who recognizes his poverty. He doesn't want the person who thinks he's a great gift to God. He wants the empty, broken, humble man who desires to be filled with God so he can pour himself out in service to other people.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016