For several years now, it has become obvious that we have entered into the era of the Incredible Shrinking Catholic Church. All the metrics in places like the U.S., Europe, and Latin America are heading in the wrong direction.
Even the weekly Mass attenders have an alarming number of people who embrace heterodox beliefs and practices. With some priests and prelates departing from the sacred deposit of the faith, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone: the acorns don’t fall very far from the oak tree.
If there is a bright side to apostasy, it is that the small, faithful remnant is being revealed amidst all the infidelity in doctrine and practice. Mary’s Heel has come to the fore and is being displayed like a diamond on a very dark background.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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For those who aspire to be a part of Mary’s Heel, the top of their agenda should be occupied with, by the grace of God, building a substantial foundation of humility. It’s no coincidence that Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).
Augustine advised Dioscurus that “…although many virtues are commanded by the Christian religion, study to give humility the highest place, because all virtues are acquired and maintained by humility, and without humility they vanish away.” St. Thomas agreed: “Acquired humility is in a certain sense the greatest good.”
If the roots of the rebellion in heaven (Is. 14:12-14) and then in Eden was pride, then the roots of righteousness must be in profound humility. This is why Augustine called humility “the foundation of all other virtues,” and Cassian (quoted by Mother Teresa) said it was “the mother and mistress of all the virtues.”
Since the Mother of God is the perfection of humility, it makes sense that her Heel would also be very humble in order to move in concert with her in all her designs in these last days. The Head and the Heel must be synchronized if the head of the serpent is to be crushed under her feet.
And just as the fullness of grace is poured out on Our Lady because of her humility, so shall the grace of God be lavishly given to her humble Heel, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). In appearing to St. Faustina, Christ told her that “the meek and humble and the souls of little children…most resemble my heart…I pour out upon them whole torrents of grace.”
With scandal and crisis within the Church and a toxic secular culture from without, Mary’s Heel will need all the grace she can get. In the Apothegmata, Saint Antony comes out of his hermitage in the Egyptian desert and looks out and sees the many snares of the devil spread out over the entire world.
He cries out to heaven: “My God! How can anyone be saved?” A voice responds from heaven: “Humility.”
Mary’s Heel remembers Christ saying, “…apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:5b) and knows that they must be radically dependent on the grace of God, just as the Branches are dependent on the Vine (Jn. 15:1-8) for sustenance. For the practicing Catholic this means availing themselves to a robust orthodoxy, consistent devotional life, and engagement in the Sacraments.
Ancient Hebrew wisdom tells us: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace; but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). Aphrahat the Persian Sage said, “Humility brings forth wisdom and discernment; humble people possess prudence.”
A group of devout Catholics may find themselves living in a diocese that is riddled with corruption and begin to dialogue about how they can be Mary’s Heel in their neck of the woods. If they’re humble, the first thing that they’ll admit is that they don’t know what they’re doing.
Then they’ll cry out to heaven (God, the Mother of God, the angels, and the saints) for divine assistance. Scripture tells us that when the lowly cry out, God hears them (Ps. 17:28; 33:19).
A second act of humility for Mary’s Heel will probably involve seeking the wisdom and knowledge of other people who understand the difficult waters they are trying to navigate: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14). With further prayer and thinking things through, their direction will become clearer and they will eventually launch out into the mission Our Lady has for them.
As a people “upon whom the end of the ages has come” (I Cor. 10:11), Mary’s Heel will also have a spirit of martyrdom rooted in humility if she is to endure to the end. This is what Mary displayed as the Lady of Sorrows at the foot of the cross in grieving for her Son who was driven to the most unspeakable death because of his humility.
For the vast majority of readers, this will not mean an actual martyrdom, but more of a dying daily as our lives are configured to the Passion in less dramatic ways (e.g., after a hard day, a husband does the dishes because his wife has had a harder day). With affliction both within and without the Church, a spirit of martyrdom is not an option if we hope to be in the company of those who endure to the end.
It’s interesting to note that in Navy SEAL training, only about 10 percent of the original SEAL wannabees make it through Hell Week and become Navy SEALS. A former SEAL believes that the common characteristic that all the survivors have is an ability to look beyond their own pain and help their fellow soldier in need.
Put another way, those whose lives are more other-centered and rooted in humility, seem to have a special grace to endure what very few can. There’s a lesson here for all who aspire to be a part of Mary’s Heel in an age of narcissism.