Unexpected apology points to virtue rarely seen in public

The Door of Humility leads into the Church of the Nativity (Basilica of the Nativitiy). (Photo courtesy of Ian and Wendy Sewell)

Standing there before the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we waited to pass through a small, very low entryway known as “the Humble Door.”

“You have to make yourself small to go before God,” our tour guide told us. So we hunched down, ducking our heads, and made our way into the ancient church.

Making ourselves small doesn’t come naturally. We’re much more likely to get hung up on pride, the sin that’s been called the father of all sins. In human relationships, one way this sin manifests itself is a refusal to own up to mistakes.

When it comes to politicians and community leaders, admitting a mistake can result in unflattering headlines or even a public relations disaster.

My mind goes back to an interview I once had for another newspaper where two well-known men sat before me, watching as my hands flew across the keyboard of my laptop and the red light on my voice recorder signaled that every word was being captured. The large-scale, iconic event they’d held the previous year had been an enormous flop.

“We made too many changes too soon,” one admitted. “We lost money and ended up in the red.” Tens of thousands of dollars in the red, actually.

“It was kind of like the New Coke thing,” the other gentleman said. Remember that little episode? The soft-drink titan changed its formula back in 1985 and was met with a firestorm of criticism and massive rejection by the public. To this day, that corporate misstep is held up as an example of a public relations nightmare.

Joyce Coronel is a regular contributor to The Catholic Sun and author of “Cry of Ninevah.” Opinions expressed are the writers’ and not necessarily the views of The Catholic Sun or the Diocese of Phoenix.

As a reporter, I’ve had people decline to be interviewed, refuse to be quoted or speak very guardedly. I can’t say that I blame them. People don’t trust the media and they worry about how they will be portrayed by a complete stranger.

So imagine my surprise when these two men sat with me in a brightly lit conference room and admitted that they’d made a big mistake. It was refreshing.

In a Facebook world, humility is one of those virtues that charms. It creates peace in the home, the workplace and the community.

Think about the last argument you had with someone. Were you able to resolve it peacefully? Did humility enter into the equation? A frank admission of our own failings and a sincere apology go a long way toward building peace. Many of us — maybe most of us — struggle with that.

How about that last mistake you made? Did you offer excuses or blame someone else? It takes humility infused with courage to admit our blunders. This virtue of humility also reveals itself in the way we handle criticism and correction. Do we lash out or are we able to follow the example of Christ who “did not shield his face from buffets and spitting”?

This bowing down, this bending low and lifting God high — these are the marks of sanctity. And it’s not so common these days. Perhaps that’s why the world was captivated by the news that emerged in March of 2013, when after being elected to the papacy, Pope Francis paid his own hotel bill. We’re not accustomed to seeing humility up close and it’s downright delightful.

A young lady I once interviewed comes to mind. “What was going through your mind when you found out you’d won?” I asked her. She was 15 years old and had received an impressive award.

“I wasn’t expecting to win at all, so it was a really big surprise and a great honor for me,” she said shyly. What a beautiful answer!

To put ourselves in last place, to not seek honor or recognition, to admit our own weaknesses and failings — these are steps on the path of humility, the road to union with Christ and a more peaceful heart.

It means making ourselves small, bending down so as to place ourselves at the feet of Christ and in doing so, acknowledging that He is God and we are not.