As you walk into our home through the mudroom, and turn to your left, you will see something recognizable to all homes with growing children: vertical boards alongside the door with pencil dashes and numbers. The pencil dashes and numbers represent the marked height of each child on their birthday. This past week, my attention was drawn to the growth in all four of my children.
Human growth is a strange thing (as is growth in all living organisms), it is not something the eye can observe. As much as the eye strains to observe growth, it just won’t—it can’t, and yet, growth still takes place. In the case of my children, the pencil dashes and marks show this reality, the reality of growth taking place over time.
Growth in the spiritual life is not dissimilar to human growth: you never see it take place, but it does, in fact, take place. If we attend to the needs of the soul in the same manner we attend to the needs of the body, the soul grows, expands, and like physical growth, it does so over time, but the question arises, can one measure spiritual growth? Saint Paul reminds us that only the fool passes judgment upon the relative value of his spiritual growth (cf. 1 Cor 4:1-6). Essentially, human boasting beyond what God has done through Christ Jesus is folly (cf. 1 Cor 13:1; Rom 5:11). “Whoever boasts should boast in the Lord” (2 Cor 10:17). If we are given the eyes to see growth it is to extol and praise the work of God inside of us. Consider the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mary was blessed among women for the fruit of her womb and most of all for her faithfulness (cf. Lk 11:28). How does she respond to such praise? With humility. She affirms the source of her blessedness with her great Magnificat: “my soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46). Mary recognizes at the deepest level her being magnifies the goodness of God because God’s goodness put it there. In other words, it is the grace of God that brings us into an awareness of what He has done for us, and as He does, our spirit rejoices in God our Savior (cf. Lk 1:47).
Mary reminds us that God is the protagonist of our growth, and if we remain lowly like Mary, God will reveal Himself to us. Jesus tells us that he “reveals” himself to the lowly, the “little ones.” Interestingly, the Greek word for reveal is “to unveil.” Only God can take away the veil and he does so to the lowly. Herein lies the great paradox of spiritual growth. If we wish to attain the heights of spiritual growth, we must remain small. As I walk through the mudroom today and see those pencil dashes and numbers, I am gently reminded to be small!