Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Miss Joan ~ God's Greatness ~ Our Humility

Many of us will remember Romper Room, the television series seen by children all across the United States between 1953 to 1994. Every major city had its local version led by a female teacher who was always addressed as, Miss. Out of New York I watched Miss Joan, who I claim as my first catechist, introducing me to a conscious and fundamental truth about God.

Romper Room began with the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by half an hour of exercises, songs and moral lessons about how to be well-mannered and good. Halfway through each segment the 4-5 year olds would sit at their desks for cookies and milk, but only after (get this!) praying grace. And what a perfect prayer:

God is good,
God is great,
And we thank Him for our food. 

I really don't like the word great unless it's used to extol God. And what a blasphemy (God insult) when a terrorist shouts out God's greatness after murdering someone. But indeed, God is great: wondrous, creative, beyond, awesome, powerful, mysterious, all-good, surpassing, vast, tremendous! 

And when we forget this and use the word great about ourselves, our great power, our great weapons, the great reach of our spheres of influence, our great wealth, our great resources - then we have lost humility. We rarely hear the word humble or humility anymore because we wrongly think it means being demeaned, degraded or shamed. 

Humility is a virtue. And a virtue is a practiced or cultivated goodness. Humility comes from the Latin word humus, which means good earth: that I am down to earth about myself. 

Here are three voices who make plain what humility is. The three live in religious community, which doesn't mean they're experts, but as in religious community you don't choose who you live with which makes the human/spiritual challenge more demanding. Sister Gail Fitzpatrick was the Abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey. She writes:

"The fruit of humility is naturalness. Humble people feel at home being who they are and they do not need to play roles in order to impress others or compete with them. They're confident about using their own talents and strengths without drawing attention to themselves, and are not threatened by the talents and accomplishments of others. They live in such a way that goodness comes naturally, treating other people with respect because it's the right thing to do."

And Thomas Merton who wrote from the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane in Kentucky says:

"If I am the center of the universe then everything belongs to me. I can claim as my due all the good things of the earth. I can rob and cheat and bully other people. I can help myself to anything I like and no one can resist me...Humility, therefore is absolutely necessary if man is to avoid acting like a baby all this life. To grow up means in fact to become humble, to throw away the illusion that I am the center of everything and that other people only exist to provide me with comfort and pleasure." 

Sister Joan Chittester was the prioress of the Erie, Pennsylvania Benedictine Monastery. She writes:
"When we have to be the best, we can never be ourselves ... Deep down we know that we are both more and less than people see. Once we claim our essential smallness we are freed from the need to lie even to ourselves about our frailties. It is a terrible burden to have to be perfect, to need to be right when we fear we are not, to never be wrong when deep down we know that we are. Humility asks us to accept the idea that we have plenty of room for growth and growing up depends on learning from others."


  1. I now have a better understanding of what humility truly is. The examples you give make it so much clearer that now I can at least set a goal towards achieving some level of humbleness. Maybe if we all thought about it more we would be better examples for others

    1. When I was a boy, the humility message was: "You don't matter; you're nothing." This was especially built into religious life which made nuns and priests spiritually and psychologically sick. I praise the day I found my way to shedding that.

  2. Many people abuse their authority and power over other. It is ashame we let this happen.

    1. I don't let people do that to me anymore. It's not virtuous to allow people to 'tap dance' on others.

  3. My Romper Room included Miss Mary Ann, but other than that, I remember it exactly as you describe. We were taught morality and about being polite to one another and even etiquette. I don't think we do enough of this today. Times are different, but we have to learn to be nice to each other. I did always want Miss Mary Ann to see me in her magic mirror.

  4. All across the country there were dozens of Romper Room teachers. With all the new media we could be awash with online teachers helping us to learn again how to be courteous and respectful. The Church might get in on the act too - and the real meaning of humility. We need a new "magic mirror" that helps us to see ourselves rightly, so we might grow and change. The screens we watch, TV, internet, video games, movies - these are mirrors which more often than not mirror back to us our degradation, selfishness and violence. Icons are not only windows to heaven, but "mirrors" that reveal to us who we are, and who we might become, when suffused with God-Light.

  5. The ability to be humble is a great gift. It is difficult to look within one's self and accept our faults and the perceptions of others. It is difficult to allow ourselves to grow without becoming self absorbed. You teach us well Father and I pray for this humble growth for all of us.

  6. I can see where lack of humility, can make you selfish. Always looking for that place, where you will be most comfortable. Jesus never seemed to look for comfort, just went out on His mission everyday to save souls. There were very bad days and very good days but He made great progress. Choosing a saint to follow is probably good.

    1. Keeping the saints in mind is an important piece of the Catholic life. Someone wrote that the saints are not Christian heroes. I disagree. A hero is a success story usually overcoming tremendous challenges. We need heroes in the spiritual realm too. But it is essential to remember that I can't be that saint, or that saint or that saint. I can only be the saint God has called ME to be, and that means that I live my own unique life as truthfully and as beautifully as Jesus lived his.