Skip to comments.Living the Virtue of Humility
Posted on 03/02/2008 11:29:38 AM PST by stfassisi
By Father Ray Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.
The basic theme of todays first lesson and Gospel is humility.
Hear again these words from our first reading. "My son, perform your tasks in meekness. . . . The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. For great is the might of the Lord; he is glorified by the humble" (Sir. 3:1718). Here also Our Lords strong words from the Gospel. "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles will be exalted" (Lk. 14:11).
Our Lord strongly emphasized the virtue of humility in His teaching. He began His Sermon the Mount with, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mt. 5:3) "Poor in spirit" translates ptochoi, which means "lowly," "humble."
Humble childlikeness, He said, is required for entry into heaven: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt. 18:34).
Indeed, the only personal quality of Jesus which He urged on His followers is meekness, humility. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt. 11:29) The Greek word for "gentle" is praus, which means "meek," "gentle," "kind." The word for "lowly" is tapeinos, "humble," "lowly," "modest."I daresay none of us knows enough about humility, and none of us consistently exemplifies the virtue of humility. So lets start with the opposite of humility. Lets start with something we all know a lot about; something most of us too frequently exemplifyI speak now of pride.
Pride is an illusion: the illusion of selfsufficiency. Pride is the notion that one really is in charge of his own life; that one is the true author of all that good he is and does; that one deservesor largely deservesall the good that comes to him. In the medieval list of deadly sins, pride came first. Why? Because at the root of every sin is pride, the determination to have ones own way. The sin of pride is its defiance of God: "not thy will, but mine be done!"
In my sophomore year in college I came across William Ernest Henleys poem "Invictus" ("Unconquered"). I quickly memorized the poem because I thought it was very manly, very courageous.
Out of the night that covers me, Black as a pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul.
And then there is a recurring refrain: "I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul." Some years later I came to realize that what had seemed to so triumphant to me in my youth is in fact a loud cry of despair. Despair born of the illusion of pride.
But now lets look at what the Church and her saints tell us about the virtue of humility. Based on the Churchs tradition, we can say that the virtue of humility is living the truth about ourselves in our relationship with God.
Our first parents unleashed sin in the world through their pride, wanting to be like God and to be their own masters. As a result, they lost heaven for themselves and for us. Since their disobedience and our disobedience offend God Himself, it is only He who can make full reparation for our sin. And God has done exactly that, through the humility of His Son Jesus.
The virtue of humility has no place in the divine nature of Christ, who being one God with the Father has no superior. But humility is an essential dimension of His human nature. And we know that the greater the dignity of a person, the greater merit there is in that persons virtue of humility. Since Christ has ultimate dignitythe dignity of divinitythe merit of His humility is beyond all human understanding.
Think of what He has done for us in his humility! "Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:68).
"Humility is Truth"
The word "humility" suggests lowliness and submissiveness. It comes from the Latin word humilitas, which in turn is derived from the Latin word humus, which means the earth.
St. Thomas wrote that "the virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within ones own bounds." That is, humility means recognizing and acting on our total dependence on God. Total dependence not only for life itself, but for every single good thing in our lives. Our opening collect today addresses God by recalling that "every good thing comes from you." Thats why the St. Thérèse claimed that "humility is truth"--truth about ourselves.
The virtue of humility, therefore, is a pre-requisite to faith itself. In fact, we can say that the depth of our faith will be in direct proportion to the depth of our humility. Humility is sometimes called "the first virtue," in that it casts pride aside and helps a person become open to the working of Gods grace. "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Jas. 4:6).
Indeed, we must recognize that humility is essential to the practice of all the virtues. Thats why our blessed Lord so strongly enjoined on us the virtue of humility.
To grow in humility is to grow in appreciation of Gods rich gifts in everyone, including those in oneself. Many of us are familiar with C.S. Lewiss book The Screwtape Letters. It purports to be a series of letters written by Screwtape, a chief tempter in hell, telling a young tempter on earth, Wormwood, how to snag victims for hell. Throughout the book, Screwtape refers to God as "the Enemy." Screwtape warns Wormwood that the virtue of humility in a victim is a great obstacle to bringing that person into hell.He explains:
The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbours talents. . . . He wants each man, in the long run, to be able to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things. (73)
One indicator of ones humility is the way in which we ordinarily receive compliments. Are we embarrassed? Do we dismiss the compliment, or do we try to make a joke about it? Or do we simply say "thank you" and then praise God (either silently or quietly) for having given the gift for which were being praised?In her autobiography, St. Thérèse recalled a fable by La Fontaine. The fable told of a donkey who was carrying some relics of a saint in a procession. He looked at the people along the way who were bowed in reverence for the relics on the donkeys back. The donkey thought the people were showing reverence to him, and he became very proud. St. Thérèse said she would be like that donkey, if she ever took any credit for any good that appeared in her life. God forgive me! I know that at times I have been as stupid as that donkey. Have you?
Humiliation Can Help Us Grow
But now lets think about humility and humiliation. For most of us, being humiliated in some way is very painful: Who of us likes it? And yet, we have the word of St. Thérèse that humility can be fashioned only through experiencing humiliation. She insisted any kind of humiliation is essential to growing in humility.
She laid special emphasis on the necessity of the humiliation which comes from having our faults pointed out to us. We may be painfully conscious of some of our faults, but none of us knows all his or her faults. The virtue of humility grows through our graciously accepting the corrections of others. This is what St. Thomas called the "virtuous use of humiliations as a medicine." It is a sign of holiness readily to accept correction, graciously to accept others pointing out what we really are. In fact, the way in which we accept correction by others can be a measure of our sanctity.
St. Thérèse entered the Carmelite convent at Lisieux when she was only fifteen, and for years the prioress treated her very harshly. Yet years later, in her autobiography, written under the order of her prioress, St. Thérèse said quite sincerely, "I thank you, Mother, for not having spared me. Jesus knew that His Little Flower was too weak to take root without the life-giving waters of humiliation, and it is to you that she owes that inestimable blessing." Think about those words: "the life-giving waters of humiliation"!
This, again, is our point: the virtue of humility is living the truth about ourselves in our relationship with God. The truth is, we are totally dependent on God not only for life itself, but for any good which comes from us or to us.
The constant recognition of that fact is the true and only protection against the deadly sin of pride.
The constant recognition of that fact is the true and only source of deep Christian joy and confidence.
"I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me," declares St. Paul, "for when I am weak, [when I admit that Im weak] then I am strong" (2Cor 12:910).
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear my prayer
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged ... Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected ... Deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may, increase and I may decrease ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything... Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
life seems to do the humbling for me.
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Amen. So important. Pride kills.
Even the title Even the title Even the title is a litany! ;)
Very much appreciated post. Thank you.
"The One Who used humble words with Paul, His persecutor, used the same humble words with the Pharisee. Humility is so powerful that even the all-conquering God did not conquer without it. Humility was even able to bear the burden of a stiff-necked nation in the desert. Moses, the humblest of men, was given charge of the nation that was the most stubborn of all men. God, Who needed nothing to save His people, later found Himself in need of the humility of Moses just to abide the grumbling and complaining of (His) critics. Only humility could tolerate the perversity of a nation that dismissed signs in Egypt as well as wonders in the desert. Whenever pride caused divisions in the nation, the prayer of humility healed their divisions. Now, if the humility of a tongue-tied man endured six hundred thousand, how much more does His humility endure, Who granted speech to the tongue-tied! For the humility of Moses is a (mere) shadow of the humility of our Lord." +Ephraim the Syrian
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