I was born on Holy Thursday, a fact I didn’t realize until just a few years ago. I have always loved Holy Thursday, the pageantry of the Mass on that night, the meaning of the Last Supper, the humility shown in the washing of the feet, the celebration of the priesthood, the end of what is always a long Lent, the summation of our faith in the gift of the Eucharist given to us on that night, the solemn act of departing in silence, and spending quiet time with our Lord at the altar of repose. Long before I knew that it coincided with my birth, I loved it, and apparently, God knew I would, so He gave me the day as a birthday gift.
This year, my birthday falls on Holy Saturday, and is overshadowed by the preparations for Easter. We are cleaning the house, and I will be baking and decorating and assembling Easter baskets for the kids. At sunset, we will have a bonfire and chase away the darkness, renew our baptismal promises, and sing the Alleluia songs. The focus will not be on my birthday, but on the day we were all given a chance to be “born again”, as the Bible-belt saying goes. My birthday can wait, as it should.
It took me a while to realize this, of course. Humility is not a virtue that comes easy to me. I was reminded of that again this past week, when I got terribly upset because my husband asked me to write out a list of what I would like for gifts, rather than just “shopping from the heart” as I’d hoped he would. I minced no words in expressing my disappointment and hurt. Of course, it was not really about the gifts at all. It was that strong desire we all have inside to just be loved and wanted and the center of someone’s attention, if only for a little while. The center of attention. Exactly the opposite of humility.
I recognized in a very painful way last year that so many of my anxieties and emotions are brought on by a lack of humility. Since that time, I have tried to be more mindful in practicing this one virtue from which all other virtues stem. It has been a challenge for which I was not well prepared and has been a series of triumphs and failures. Much as the Israelites were winning the battle as long as Moses’ arms were held up, I have found that when I really work at humility, I am winning the battle for peace and love in my home. When I relax, the battle is no longer in my favor. Thankfully, I have the saints and our Blessed Mother to help me lift my arms back up, and the confessional, which is where I placed myself on Holy Thursday this year.
When I awoke on this Holy Saturday, I reflected upon the many birthdays I have been blessed with in my life. Fifty-two of them so far. That’s a lot of reflection. Most, I cannot even remember. A few, I recall, were terrible, like the one when I turned forty and was still childless. That was a bad one. Then, there was the one when I drove from Missouri to Kentucky with two three-year olds in the backseat, moving them away from the only home they’d known to a new life in a new place. That was a stressful and anxious one. There was the birthday when I submitted my letter of resignation after a 20-year career in the workforce, a gift to myself that came 10 years later than I’d planned. There was the birthday marked by a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Accompanied by a supportive husband who understood the importance of the trip to me, and the three children I never thought I’d have, that birthday was an act of thanksgiving to God for 50 years of answering my prayers in ways better than I could have imagined. And there was the birthday I had last year, spent in pandemic lock-down, when the only pilgrimage I could make was to the forest outside our door. God blessed me that day with sunshine and wildflowers because He knows that second to family and faith, it is His creation that I love most.
It was in this reflection that I realized that birthdays are nothing more than simply a point of reference for our lives. When I leave this world, my birthday will be meaningless to me. While I am in in this world, they are a point from which I can look forward with hope and look backward with gratitude. They are the stepping stones along a journey to my final destination, if only I can remain humble. And in between each stone grow wildflowers and children and a marriage and a family and a realization that all along, I have always been the center of God’s attention.