By Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
In my last column I reflected on how we can live out our desert experience every day. I presented John the Baptist as a model for our own type of spiritual desert. He invited the people to the desert to have an encounter with God, to change their lives, to repent of their sins, and to abandon themselves to God (Mk. 1:1-11). This was an invitation to self-emptying.
In the season of Advent John the Baptist is a prominent voice inviting us to self-empty our hearts and allow the King of Glory to come in. His very life gives us an example of the self-emptying and abandonment that are expected in the life of the present-day follower of Christ. John arrived before Jesus did. He had many followers and was revered by the people, who saw him as a great man, a prophet. But when Jesus came, John stooped low and was ready to give up all that greatness. John presents us with a lesson in humility as an act of self-abandonment; he gave up his greatness for somebody else. Mustering the courage to acknowledge that someone else is better or greater than you are is a herculean task for many of us. But to acknowledge and praise the good and the greatness of a perceived competitor, and to publicly proclaim how much mightier he is than you are, is indeed a saintly act. And this was exactly what John the Baptist did. He didn’t just say that someone mightier than he was had arrived in town (Mk. 1:7). He went even further, admitting and proclaiming that he [John] must decrease while Jesus must increase (Jn. 3:30).
To learn to be humble, as John the Baptist was, we must learn to fight against our ego, which ignites our selfish desires and prevents us from opening ourselves enough to see the greatness in others as a blessing rather than a competition. We must learn to appreciate the greatness that God has given to somebody else. People are gifted differently, and if we dig deeply we’ll realize that we are all gifted. Each gift can be used differently to achieve many things. Do you know that the ability to appreciate and celebrate the gifts of others is also a gift? Anyone who cannot find anything good in someone else must come down from that mountain. You may be standing on a mountain of pride that is preventing you from seeing a good that is down in the valley. Come down, and you may see clearly that God has made everyone unique and special. There is something good in even the worst of us. We are all children of God.
John the Baptist in his lesson of humility invites us to come down from our mountains and work to rid ourselves of those instances in our lives that make us go into unhealthy competition and mindless undermining of other people’s abilities. Unhealthy competition deters us from appreciating the gifts that God has given to our friend, sibling, spouse, or colleague. This competitive spirit causes jealousy, envy and other related vices; a lack of humility leads to many vices that prevent Christian growth. If someone is better than I am at something because of a gift that God has given him, I should rejoice for him rather than being sad or envious. The disposition of being sad because of someone else’s progress is depressing and draining to our mental state. You are mentally healthier when you are happy for someone else’s good, someone else’s gift – being joyful reduces stress. By accepting Jesus’ greatness John the Baptist became even greater. Jesus himself declared to his followers: “I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John….” (Lk. 7:28). Sincerely rejoicing over the good fortune of others is a doorway to becoming even greater.
Let us open our hearts to celebrate one another. If the good is from God, we should guard against being angry or bitter about it. Otherwise, we may find ourselves being bitter and angry with God instead.
Father Jacob Dankasa is pastoral administrator of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.