It was about 9:45pm last Sunday and I was looking forward to some quiet reading & prayer in my cell before retiring for the night. Monday was going to start a very busy week, so this was the calm before the storm.
Then there was a gentle knock at the cell door. I opened it to see Sister Julianna standing there with a note in her hand. We had already prayed Compline (Night Prayer) and so were in what we call “Grand Silence” when whatever needs communicated is done in writing.
That simple piece of paper started a series of little events that comprised my course on humility. The content of the note? A reminder that we were to be at a local school the next morning to give a presentation on a mystery of the Rosary and a corresponding virtue. I had agreed to go weeks before and then completely forgot.
Sister and I exchanged a few more notes to finalize our plans for the next morning and by the time everything was planned, there was no more time for my quiet reading. Oh well, as our Mother Luisita said, “One more sacrifice, one less consolation.”
What were we going to say to those children the next morning?
The problem was not so much the mystery we were to present, the Crowning with Thorns, although trying to speak to a group of K-12 students at 8am on a Monday morning about anything might be hard enough. Our real struggle was the virtue we were asked to address: humility. Weren’t we about to preach to the choir? I mean, aren’t children supposed to be our example of humility? “Unless you become like children you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
After Mass and prayers (and a very quick breakfast) we headed off to school. Little did we know who the real pupils were that day.
By the time we finally found the school (they rent space from a Unitarian Church, so that threw us off a bit) we had only five minutes before the morning assembly at which we were to speak. The campus was the most unique layout, all these different little buildings with a maze of paths and trees spread throughout. We had no idea where we were going.
We spotted a class leaving their classroom and seized our chance. The teacher was allowing all the students to go first, and so we stopped the first little third grade girl to get directions.
“Good morning! Are you going to morning assembly?”
A smile and a nod.
“That’s wonderful! May we follow you?”
Another smile and nod and she was off with an extra bounce in her step at being the chosen guide of these two Carmelite visitors.
As I followed our tiny little leader, I began to get the feeling that today’s most important lesson was not going to be for the children, but perhaps for my sister companion and me. That intuition grew stronger as we began morning assembly.
It had been a while since I had heard children’s voices recite prayers. The simplicity and fervor touched me deeply. “This is humility,” I thought to myself. “Complete honesty and openness before God and others.”
After a few prayers, we were ready for the Pledge to the Flag. But where was that voice that was speaking coming from? He must have been the shortest first grader in the class, but that did not seem to bother him. He lead us in the pledge seemingly heedless that there were high school seniors almost three times his size in the back of the room. And they seemed heedless that they were following someone so small and simple. “Yes, the lesson is for me,” I repeated to myself.
Sister Julianna and I made our brief presentation, the school continued on with its daily schedule, and we headed back to our convent. But my week was changed. Busy? Like anything! But there was an added note of serenity due to the mini course I had in humility. Throughout the week, that little third grade face, framed with two braids, served as a reminder of true humility. In my heart, the simple voices joined my own in my prayers. And I had a humble confidence in everything I did.
I’m still working on it, but I am grateful to those children and the lesson they taught me on humility. God reward each of them!