|Devotion to Our Lady||
Who? Who-mility? Humility!
The least known amongst the virtues, and consequently the most misunderstood, is the virtue of humility, and yet it is the very groundwork of the Christian religion. Humility is a grace of the soul that cannot be expressed in words, and is only known by experience. It is an unspeakable treasure of God, and can only be called the gift of God. "Learn," He said—not from angels, not from men, not from books—but learn from My presence, light and action within you, "that I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls" (St. John Climacus) The more we are subject to God, the nearer we are to Him. He is infinitely above us, but by this very subjection we ascend to Him, and find in Him whatever is truly great.
Humility Requires Honesty
Humility consists in the confession of the grace of God. The first office of the grace of God is to make us sensible of the giver. The grand object for which we came into existence is more than the light and grace of God; it is God Himself, and those gifts are given to guide and lead and help us to Him. We are not our own good, nor are the things around or beneath us our good, however useful in their place and order, but God is our good, and whatever comes from God that is better than ourselves helps us on to Him. We have but the capacity for good, and the power of working with the good we receive. Pride is the practical denial of this truth, a truth that springs from the constitution of our nature. And therefore it is said in Holy Scripture that "pride was not made for man" (Ecclesiasticus 10:22.)
Humility Needs Gratitude
Again, humility is the interior, spiritual, sacrificial action through which, with the profoundest veneration and gratitude, we offer to God the being and life we have received from Him, with the desire and prayer that we may die to ourselves and live to Him; that we may be wholly changed and transformed into His likeness, detached from earth and united with God. But as we come to our God from sin and dark ingratitude, we owe more to Him than our being and our life; we owe Him the contrition, the breaking to pieces of our sinful form, with regret and sorrow that we have defiled and defaced His beautiful work; we owe to Him that we throw away every breath of vanity, falsehood and evil, which, when cast out of us, is nothing.
A Fruit of Charity
Perfect humility is the fruit of perfect charity. The more we love God the less we value ourselves. He who is truly humble, truly empty of himself, is a vessel of election to God, full to overflowing with His Benedictions. He has only to ask to receive still more. He is the child of all the beatitudes, poor in spirit, meek of heart, hungering and thirsting after justice. When humility finds nothing in herself to rest upon, she finds her true center, and that center is God. For the humble soul alone has got the divine as well as the human measure of things.
The Grounds of Humility
1. The first ground of humility is our creation from nothing. We are of a short time; our beginning was feeble, as became our origin, and nothing was the womb of us all. Whence are we? From the creative will of God. What are we? An existence dependent on the will of God. Whither are we going? Onwards, ever onwards, the body to the dust, the soul to the judgment-seat of God. God is the one, absolute, perfect Being; we are but existences, the products of His will, dependent on Him for all we are and have; and all this great scene about us that fills our senses is of less value than the last soul that was created and born into this world; for the soul is for God, but this visible universe for the service and probation of the soul.
2. The second ground of humility is our intellectual light. That light makes us reasonable creatures. In that light we see the first principles of truth, order and justice; it is the foundation of our mind and of our conscience. Man is variable and changeable, and one man differs from another; but the light of truth and justice shines one and the same to all, and the chief difference between one man and another is in the degree of his communion with that light.
3. The third ground of humility is in our dependence on the providence of God. Our life with all its conditions is in the hand of God.
4. The fourth ground of humility is our sins, whereby we have deformed and denaturalized our nature, ungraced ourselves before God, and incurred His reprobation.
5. The fifth ground of humility is in the weakness, ignorance, and concupiscence that we have inherited from original sin, and have increased by our actual sins.
6. The sixth ground of humility is in the open perils and hidden snares with which we are surrounded. Error in all its forms, unbelief in all its modes and varieties, move in their motley shapes through nearly every grade of life, with the apparent unconsciousness that truth is one and comes from God. The widespread evil of modern life is the amazing indifference to the well-being of the soul. An intense activity outside the soul pursues its many ways in the name of progress, although the object or ultimate aim of that progress is neither thought of nor spoken of. But it is chiefly a progress, not to, but from the soul, not to, but from God.
7. The seventh ground of humility is in the special odiousness and deformity of pride, which is in direct opposition, beyond every other vice, to the order, reason, and truth of things. Pride turns all things from God; humility turns all things to God.
8. The eighth ground of humility is in the consideration of what this virtue does for us. It opens the soul to the truth of Christ, and the heart to the grace of Christ.
9. The ninth ground of humility is the knowledge of God and His divine perfections.
10. The tenth ground of humility is the secure rest provided for the soul in the unspeakable benefits of our Divine Redeemer.
11. The eleventh ground of humility is in our distance in this vale of suffering and tears from the Supreme Object of our soul, and the risks we run in the meanwhile from our infirmities.
12. The twelfth foundation of humility is the holy fear of the judgments of God. For unless we shelter ourselves well in the humility of Christ, and do penance, and use the world as though we used it not, we are not safe. Unless, again, a humble dependence on God be the foundation of our life and the love of God be our ruling affection, we know not in what state God will find us in the hour when we shall pass from this world.
Getting to the Root of it All
The Venerable Louis of Granada, in his spiritual classic, The Sinner’s Guide, speaks of pride and humility in the following terms:
Self-Love & the Triple Concupiscence
St. Thomas gives us a profound reason for this. All sin, he says, proceeds from self-love, for we never commit sin without coveting some gratification for self. From this self-love spring those three branches of sin mentioned by St. John: "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16), which are love of pleasure, love of riches, and love of honors. Three of the deadly sins, lust, gluttony, and sloth, spring from love of pleasure, pride springs from love of honors, and covetousness from love of riches. The remaining two, anger and envy, serve all these unlawful loves. Anger is aroused by any obstacle which prevents us from attaining what we desire, and envy is excited when we behold anyone possessing what our self-love claims. These are the three roots of the seven deadly sins, and consequently of all the other sins. Let these chiefs be destroyed and the whole army will soon be routed. Hence we must vigorously attack these mighty giants who dispute our entrance to the Promised Land.
The first and most formidable of these enemies is pride, that inordinate desire of our own excellence, which spiritual writers universally regard as the father and king of all the other vices. Hence Tobias, among the numerous good counsels which he gave his son, particularly warns him against pride: "Never suffer pride to reign in thy mind or in thy words, for from it all perdition took its beginning." (Job 4:14). Whenever, therefore, you are attacked by this vice, which may justly be called a pestilence, defend yourself with the following considerations:
First reflect on the terrible punishment which the Angels brought upon themselves by one sin of pride. They were instantly cast from Heaven into the lowest depths of Hell. If pure spirits received such punishment, what can you expect, who are but dust and ashes? God is ever the same, and there is no distinction of persons before His justice.
Pride is just as odious to Him in a man as in an angel, while humility is equally pleasing to Him in both. Hence St. Augustine says, "Humility makes men Angels, and pride makes Angels devils." And St. Bernard tells us, "Pride precipitates man from the highest elevation to the lowest abyss, but humility raises him from the lowest abyss to the highest elevation. Through pride the Angels fell from Heaven to Hell, and through humility man is raised from earth to Heaven."
Humility is the foundation upon which all our other virtues must rest. Without it, pride will contaminate and destroy whatever good things we think, say or do. There can be no sanctity or salvation without humility. Our Lord tells us to learn from Him, because He is meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29).
After this, reflect on that astonishing example of humility given us by the Son of God, who for love of us took upon Himself a nature so infinitely beneath His own, and "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). Let the example of your God teach you, O man, to be obedient. Learn, O dust, to humble yourself. Learn, O clay, to appreciate your baseness. Learn from your God, O Christian, to be "meek and humble of heart." (Matthew 11:29). If you disdain to walk in the footsteps of men, will you refuse to follow your God, who died not only to redeem us but to teach us humility? Look upon yourself and you will find sufficient motives for humility.
What Are You?
Consider what you were before your birth, what you are since your birth, and what you will be after death. Before your birth you were, for a time, an unformed mass; now a fair but false exterior covers what is doomed to corruption; and in a little while you will be the food of worms. Upon what do you pride yourself, O man, whose birth is ignominy, whose life is misery, whose end is corruption? If you are proud of your riches and worldly position, remember that a few years more and death will make us all equal. We are all equal at birth with regard to our natural condition; and as to the necessity of dying, we shall all be equal at death, with this important exception: that those who possessed most during life will have most to account for in the day of reckoning.
The Burial of Pride
"Examine," says St. John Chrysostom, "the graves of the rich and powerful of this world, and find, if you can, some trace of the luxury in which they lived, of the pleasures they so eagerly sought and so abundantly enjoyed. What remains of their magnificent retinues and costly adornments? What remains of those ingenious devices destined to gratify their senses and banish the weariness of life? What has become of that brilliant society by which they were surrounded? Where are the numerous attendants who awaited their commands? Nothing remains of their sumptuous banquets. The sounds of laughter and mirth are no longer heard; a somber silence reigns in these homes of the dead. But draw nearer and see what remains of their earthly tenements, their bodies which they loved too much. Naught but dust and ashes, worms and corruption."
The Torture of Pride
This is the inevitable fate of the human body, however tenderly and delicately nurtured. Ah! Would to God that the evil ended here! But more terrible still is all that follows death: the dread tribunal of God's justice; the sentence passed upon the guilty; the weeping and gnashing of teeth; the tortures of the worm that never dies; and the fire which will never be extinguished.
Consider also the danger of vainglory, the daughter of pride, which as St. Bernard says, enters lightly but wounds deeply. Therefore, when men praise you, think whether you really possess the qualities for which they commend you. If you do not, you have no reason to be proud. But if you have justly merited their praise, remember the gifts of God, and say with the Apostle, "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Corinthians 15:10).
Be Humble, O Dust and Ashes!
Humble yourself, then, when you hear the song of praise, and refer all to the glory of God. Thus you will render yourself not unworthy of what He bestows upon you. For it is incontestable that the respect men pay you, and the good for which they honor you, are due to God. You rob Him, therefore, of all the merit which you appropriate to yourself. Can any servant be more unfaithful than one who steals his master's glory? Consider, moreover, how unreasonable it is to rate your merit by the inconstant opinion of men who today are for you, and tomorrow against you; who today honor you, and tomorrow revile you. If your merit rests upon so slight a foundation, at one time you will be great, at another base, and again nothing at all, according to the capricious variations of the minds of men.
Remember Your Roots and Your Judgment
Oh, no; do not rely upon the vain commendations of others, but upon what you really know of yourself. Though men extol you to the skies, listen to the warnings of your conscience and accept the testimony of this intimate friend rather than the blind opinion of those who can judge you only from a distance and by what they hear. Make no account of the judgments of men, but commit your glory to the care of God, whose wisdom will preserve it for you and whose fidelity will restore it to you in the sight of Angels and men.
Be mindful also, O ambitious man, of the dangers to which you expose yourself by seeking to command others! How can you command when you have not yet learned to obey? How can you take upon yourself the care of others when you can hardly account for yourself? Consider what a risk you incur by adding to your own sins those of persons subject to your authority. Holy Scripture tells us that they who govern will be severely judged, and that the mighty shall be mightily tormented (Wisdom 6:6). Who can express the cares and troubles of one who is placed over many? We read of a certain king who, on the day of his coronation, took the crown in his hands, and, gazing upon it, exclaimed, "O crown richer in thorns than in happiness, did one truly know thee he would not stoop to pick thee up even if he found thee lying at his feet."
God Abhors Pride
"Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord!" (Proverbs 16:5). Again, O proud man, I would ask you to remember that your pride is displeasing to all—to God, Who resists the proud and gives His grace to the humble (James 4:6); your pride is displeasing to the humble, who hold in horror all that savors of arrogance; and your pride is displeasing to the proud themselves, who naturally hate all who claim to be greater than they. Nor will you be pleasing to yourself. For if it ever be given to you in this world to enter into yourself and recognize the vanity and folly of your life, you will certainly be ashamed of your littleness. And if you do not correct it here, still less satisfaction will it afford you in the next world, where it will bring upon you eternal torments.
St. Bernard tells us that if we truly knew our hearts we would be displeasing to ourselves, which alone would make us pleasing to God; but because we do not know ourselves we are inflated with pride and therefore hateful in His sight. The time will come when 'we shall be odious to God and to ourselves—to God because of our crimes, and to ourselves because of the punishment they will bring upon us. Our pride pleases the devil only; for as it was pride which changed him from a pure and beautiful angel into a spirit of malice and deformity, he rejoices to find this evil reducing others to his unhappy state.
Our Good Actions Are Done More For Self Than God
Another consideration which will help you acquire humility is the thought of the little you have done purely for God. How many vices assume the mask of virtue! How frequently vainglory spoils our best works! How many times actions which shine with dazzling splendor before men have no beauty before God! The judgments of God are different from those of men. A humble sinner is less displeasing in His sight than a proud just man, if one who is proud can be called just.
And What About Your Sins...?
Nevertheless, though you have performed good works, do not forget your evil deeds, which probably far exceed your works of virtue, and which may be so full of faults and so negligently performed that you have more reason to ask to be forgiven for them than to hope for reward. Hence St. Gregory says: "Alas for the most virtuous life, if God judge it without mercy, for those things upon which we rely most may be the cause of the greatest confusion to us. Our bad actions are purely evil, but our good actions are seldom entirely good, but are frequently mixed with much that is imperfect. Your works, therefore, ought to be a subject of fear rather than confidence, after the example of holy Job, who says, 'I feared all my works, knowing that thou didst not spare the offender.'" (Job 9:28).
Blindness of Pride
Since humility comes from a knowledge of ourselves, pride necessarily springs from ignorance of ourselves. Whoever, therefore, seriously desires to acquire humility must earnestly labor to know himself. How, in fact, can he be otherwise than humbled who, looking into his heart with the light of truth, finds himself filled with sins; defiled with the stains of sinful pleasures; the sport of a thousand errors, fears, and caprices; the victim of innumerable anxieties and petty cares; oppressed by the weight of a mortal body; so forward in evil and so backward in good? Study yourself, then, with serious attention, and you will find in yourself nothing of which to be proud.
Looking at Others Rather than Self
But there are some who, though humbled at the sight of their failings, are, nevertheless, excited to pride when they examine the lives of others whom they consider less virtuous than themselves. Those who yield to this illusion ought to reflect, though they may excel their neighbors in some virtues, that in others they are inferior to them. Beware, then, lest you esteem yourself and despise your neighbor because you are more abstemious and industrious, when he is probably much more humble, more patient, and more charitable than you. Let your principal labor, therefore, be to discover what you lack, and not what you possess.
Stop Imagining, Get Real!
Study the virtues which adorn the soul of your neighbor rather than those with which you think yourself endowed. You will thus keep yourself in sentiments of humility, and increase in your soul a desire for perfection. But if you keep your eyes fixed on the virtues, real or imaginary, which you possess, and regard in others only their failings, you will naturally prefer yourself to them, and thus you will become satisfied with your condition and cease to make any efforts to advance.
See the True Source
If you find yourself inclined to take pride in a good action, carefully watch the feelings of your heart, bearing in mind that this satisfaction and vainglory will destroy all the merit of your labor. Attribute no good to yourself, but refer everything to God. Repress all suggestions of pride with the beautiful words of the great Apostle: "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). When your good works are practices of supererogation or perfection, unless your position requires you to give an example, do not let your right hand know what your left hand does, for vainglory is more easily excited by good works done in public.
When you feel sentiments of vanity or pride rising in your heart, hasten to apply a remedy immediately. One that is most efficacious consists in recalling to mind all your sins, particularly the most shameful.
Keep Your Feet on the Ground
Like a wise physician, you will thus counteract the effect of one poison by another. Imitate the peacock, and when you feel yourself inflated with pride turn your eyes upon your greatest deformity, and your vanity will soon fall to the ground. The greater your position the greater should be your humility, for there is not much merit in being humble in poverty and obscurity. If you know how to preserve humility in the midst of honors and dignities you will acquire real merit and virtue, for humility in the midst of greatness is the grandest accompaniment of honors, the dignity of dignities, without which there is no true excellence. If you sincerely desire to acquire humility you must courageously enter the path of humiliation, for if you will not endure humiliations you will never become humble. Though many are humbled without diminishing their pride, humiliation, as St. Bernard tells us, is nevertheless the path to humility, as patience is the path to peace, and study to learning. Be not satisfied, therefore, with humbly obeying God, but be subject to all creatures for love of Him (1 Peter 2:13).
In another place St. Bernard speaks of three kinds of fear with which he would have us guard our hearts. "Fear," he says, "when you are in possession of grace, lest you may do something unworthy of it; fear when you have lost grace, because you are deprived of a strong protection; and fear when you have recovered grace, lest you should again lose it." Thus you will never trust to your own strength; the fear of God which will fill your heart will save you from presumption.
Don't Neglect; Don't Exaggerate; Keep a Balance
Be patient in bearing persecution, for the patient endurance of affronts is the touchstone of true humility. Never despise the poor and abject, for their misery should move us to compassion rather than contempt. Be not too eager for rich apparel, for humility is incompatible with a love of display. One who is too solicitous about his dress is a slave to the opinions of men, for he certainly would not expend so much labor upon it if he thought he would not be observed. Beware, however, of going to the other extreme and dressing in a manner unsuited to your position. While claiming to despise the approbation or notice of the world, many secretly strive for it by their singularity and exaggerated simplicity. Finally, do not disdain humble and obscure employments. Only the proud seek to avoid these, for the man of true humility deems nothing in the world beneath him. (The Sinner’s Guide, Venerable Louis of Granada, chapter 30).