Many of us struggle with poor self-image. So when John proclaims that he is not worthy to untie the sandal strap of the Messiah, it might be easy to see this as his disparaging himself.

But John is exercising true humility. He knows who he is and who he is not. His prophetic mission is in service to his God who loved him from before he danced in his mother’s womb.

The Spiritual Exercises invite us to hold important principles in tension: We are deeply loved. We are deeply flawed. We are sent on mission.

Lesser spiritualties see these truths in opposition. St. Ignatius, like John, understood these are the foundations on which true humility rests.

Let’s pray this Advent to embrace a mystery we will never fully understand – a God humble enough to be conceived in the womb of an unwed mother and born in an animal’s feeding trough!

—Fr. J. Michael Sparough, SJ, is a retreat master, writer, and spiritual director at the Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington, IL. His weekly video reflections can be seen at




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