Advent is a wonderful time for reflecting on humility and gratefulness. When thinking about my work placement during this season, this quote from the Bible comes to mind. Mary is eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus, and goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. This beautiful passage occurs during their joyful meeting.
“And Mary said:
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.”
A few different lines stand out in connection to my job with Catholic Charities.
“The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.”
You might think it would be difficult to see this in action working in a food pantry. Our clients are families working multiple jobs to pay rent who have trouble keeping food on the table, elders and people with disabilities who can’t work and struggle to stay afloat with continuously decreasing access to healthcare and food, and individuals experiencing homelessness in the bitter cold winter of Chicago. These people have to put aside their pride and ask for assistance for a basic human necessity most people take for granted. For most, that takes humility and courage. One particular client has moved me profoundly. Ms. K is an elderly woman experiencing homelessness. She has shared bits and pieces of her story each time she comes in for food or clothing, and her experiences and attitude are polar opposites. For example, as she told me how she had been kicked out on the streets the week before, she smiled, squeezed my hand, and encouraged me. This incredibly positive woman was in desperate need, and yet stayed kind, positive, and grateful for anything we could give her. God has blessed her and filled her with good things: humility, kindness, courage, strength, and positivity.
“His mercy is from age to age, to those who fear him.”
During Advent we are preparing for the joyful and celebratory Christmas season. God-fearing doesn’t mean being afraid, but sitting in awe of the greatness and all-powerfulness of God. Realizing that you don’t know everything. Accepting where you are in life and that it is part of His plan. Also, God-fearing should lead to healthy reflection on your personal choices and growth, and taking responsibility for your actions.
When I read back in my journal from months past, it is incredible to realize that all my prayers have been answered, just never immediately or in the way I originally thought. Somehow, they were all answered in time, no matter how worried I was or how unfixable I believed my problem to be. This is an awesome witness to how great God is and how we should be more “patient in affliction (Romans 12:12).”
“The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Interacting with clients every day who truly are being patient in affliction and humble in gratitude is sometimes challenging. Maybe you can relate, but it’s hard to keep a positive attitude 100% of the time. It’s easy to slip into complaining about petty things like traffic, dish washing, and a finicky boiler. Easy to worry about whether or not your parents will like their Christmas gifts, or if you double booked parties on New Year’s. Being grateful is an active choice. Looking a father in the eyes as I hand him food for his kids puts my insignificant worries to shame. In that moment I could either harden my heart and feel guilty for having more, or swallow my pride and be grateful for my many blessings that allow me to serve the community. This Advent, reflect on the many things you have to be grateful for: family, friends, food, community, work, health. Humbly appreciate them and give back to those who ask you for help: it takes courage to do so.