Humility

Obedience also falls under Humility

Introduction

Honesty leads to humility, which leads in turn to a complete resignation to the will of God. We shall briefly trace this path, leaving it to the reader to spend more time in spiritual reading and meditation on these important points. In the sections on humility, much has been taken from the third volume of the Directorium Asceticum, which is strongly recommended for those who truly wish to pursue a spiritual life.

What is traced out here is only a beginning of the life of virtue all of us are called by Almighty God to pursue. In fact, martyrdom is to suffer death in the defense of virtue, whether it be the Faith or holy chastity. Since we are all called to the spirit of martyrdom, we should live a life of virtue to prepare for the end of the world, that day on which the world ends to us with our death.

Honesty

Saint John Vianney says that pride is an untrue opinion of what we are not.

“Humility is truth, openly admitted and accepted.” 1 And this is where we need to get real. We have been lying to ourselves about who and what we really are. It is time for a serious examination of conscience, considering what we truly are and what we truly are not.

“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

Job 9:8: If I would justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me: if I would shew myself innocent, he shall prove me wicked.

I Sin, Therefore I Am

Saint Bernard says: “Humility is a virtue which, by means of a truthful-that is, not false or affected-knowledge of his miseries, makes a man vile in his own eyes.” What leads us to this opinion as we will see in this and the next section is a complete understanding of what is ours and what comes to us from Almighty God. We begin with what is ours, our sinfulness. When we examine our self carefully we will find that this is all we truly possess of our own.

To maintain ourselves in this state of self-abasement without any danger of falsehood or self-deception, the remark of the Seraphic Patriarch Saint Francis will be of much avail. Being asked by his companion how he could, with truth, call himself the greatest sinner in the world, seeing that he had never fallen into any of the crimes which others commit, he replied: “I believe, and hold for certain, that, had God dealt with the vilest assassin in the world with the like mercy which He has shown to me, this man would have served Him more faithfully, and be more pleasing in His eyes than I now am. Further, it is my firm conviction that if God were to withdraw His holy hand from me, I should fall into enormities beyond anything that has yet been committed.” This is a maxim founded on truth, and by the aid of which we may, with all sincelity, regard ourselves as inferior to any sinner whatsoever. For if we but consider what we are of ourselves, we shall be convinced that we should behave worse than any other; so that we ought to think of ourselves as being the vilest of all. In a word, there is no lack of means whereby, without lying or falsehood, we may persuade ourselves that we are the worst of all, placing ourselves, without affectation, and with all sincerity, beneath everyone else, provided we be well grounded in self knowledge, which, as we have already observed, is to be the source of this sentiment of subjection to our neighbours.” 2

Saint Paul also recognized this: “For that which I work, I understand not. For I do not that good which I will; but the evil which I hate, that I do.” (Romans 7:15)

To us alone belongs guilty sin, whereof God is not the author, but only our own malice, our depraved will. And it is precisely on account of sin, which is wholly ours, that we are much more contemptible than on account of the nothingness we may fairly claim as our own for, as our Lord said of Judas, It would have been better for that man if he had never been born. (Matthew 26:24)” 3

Consider this point well: “Remove the grace of God, and will shall infallibly fall into countless excesses.” 4 Most people have fallen into mortal sin. One priest estimates that eighty-five percent of those who save their souls, do so as penitents. A penitent has committed at least one mortal sin, whereas those who have not committed a mortal sin, follow a different path to heaven. All are called to be truly humble, because all sin is evil, and all of us have sinned. “For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

Now to proceed with order in a matter of such importance, the Director must begin by rooting in the minds of his penitents the Humility which consists in self-knowledge; this being the first stone that has to be laid in order to make a solid foundation of Humility: But it must be observed that for this purpose, it is not enough to have a mere abstract knowledge, whereby the penitent believes, in a general and indistinct manner, that he is nothing but a sinner and miserable wretch, as faith teaches: since this superficial knowledge can go along very well with a pride that is perfectly diabolical. It must of necessity be a realization, lively, deep and practical, of our abasement, which begets in the soul a despising of ourselves before God and man: for, in this lowly sentiment it is, according to the view of Saint Thomas, that Humility formally consists. But as no virtue, and even no art, can be acquired without frequent practice, the Director will train all who are desirous of progress, to the frequent practice of considering these truths and keeping them constantly before their minds to their dying day.” 5

Practical Advice on Humility In Regard to God

The person, placing himself in the divine presence, with the eye of faith, will cast one glance at the infinite Majesty of the Almighty, and another glance at his own miseries; at the contrast of his deep abasement with God’s immeasurable greatness, he will subject, prostrate, annihilate himself before the Lord, in the measure of the light imparted from above. Saint Ignatius Loyola would have us deem ourselves, in the sight of God, as a running sore that lets out matter on all sides. Saint Vincent Ferrer would have us account ourselves as putrid carrion, and hideous corpses, on account of our enormous sins, in order that we may conceive a great and lively contempt of ourselves, and may wonder how God can bring Himself to love anything so abominable as we are.

Secondly, we must confess, with the most intimate conviction of our hearts, that whatever good may be in us, is not our own, but God’s; that to Him is due all the glory, honour, and praise; that we can claim nothing as our own but our nothingness, or what is still more vile, the filth of our sins.

Thirdly, we must inwardly rejoice that we are nothing, in order that God alone may be all in all : that we have no power, in order that He alone may be all mighty; that we are destitute of all good, in order that He alone may be the sole, the supreme Good.

Fourthly, we must repent of having, by a barefaced theft, robbed God of His most precious possession external to Himself, namely, His glory, by being puffed up at some gift or excellency which we possess, and by accepting for ourselves the praise which was His due, and not our own; and, at the same time, we must restore to God the honour of which we have robbed Him, by saying, with all fulness of heart, To Thee alone be honour and glory.

Fifthly, we should further restore to Him all the glory of which the proud and vain have robbed Him, declaring that it should have been given to Him, is to the source of all our good, and as to our last end, to Whom, in justice, it should return.

Sixthly, we ought to marvel that, while the Angels and Saints of Heaven account themselves as nothing before God, being fully aware of their utter poverty, we alone dare to take pride in ourselves.

Seventhly, let us fear lest God withdraw the gifts which He has bestowed upon us, or allow us to misuse them unto our deeper perdition.

Eighthly, let us, above all, conceive a firm and constant resolution never to seek for ourselves honour, esteem, or praise, and to do what in us lies to avoid all that may gain such for us; as, for example, dignities, position, important and honourable functions. Saint Bernard says most truly, that it is an execrable presumption to seek glory in what belongs not to us, and while aware that we have nothing of ourselves, to attempt to rob another of his honour. And a little further on, he adds, that it is a grievous crime to indulge the pride with which we make use of gifts bestowed upon us, as if they were entirely our own and sprang from ourselves; thus usurping the glory which belongs to the Giver.

Practical Advice on Humility In Regard to Our Fellow Man

Humility of heart in regard of our neighbour has three degrees, as we observed in the fifth Chapter the practical view of which I will now briefly unfold.

First, to despise ourselves, in such manner as to place ourselves below every one, thinking each person with whom we are thrown to be our superior. This submission must be in the mind, in that we make more account of the opinion of another than of our own. Hence we must never defend our own views with obstinacy, but having given our reasons, we must yield and submit. We must further seek the advice of others, and follow it, as being safer than our own opinion, and above all, we must never yield to displeasure at seeing the views of others preferred to ours, being disposed to look upon our opinion as less solidly grounded. As regards the will, this subjection should make us submit our will to that of God, and of those set over us, and even of others who have not authority over us; as it is but reasonable that our will, of which we should make less account, should yield to that of our neighbour, which we should esteem as far more worthy to be followed. As regards outward works, we are to be content that what we do is not valued, and thought less of than the actions of others.

The second degree of Humility of heart as regards our neighbours, is so to despise ourselves that we bear with calmness the contempt of others, and in consequence of the low estimate we form of ourselves, to say in our hearts, “He is right, he does me justice, he treats me as I deserve. The view he takes of my worth agrees with that of God and the whole court of Heaven. In God’s sight I am most vile on account of my nothingness, abominable for my sins.” In this degree, we still savour the bitterness of being contemned, but it is overcome by the contempt which we feel for ourselves, which makes us turn to God, saying, “I thank thee, Lord, that there are those who know me, and treat me as the wretch I am:” and we should put constraint upon ourselves to pray for the person who has outraged us. We must strive to attain this degree; otherwise, as Saint Gregory observes, the contempt that we may seem to feel for ourselves, when we own and declare our sinfulness, would not be true Humility, or real contempt: as we saw in the fifth Chapter. “We know not a few,” says the Saint, “who, of their own movement, confess that they are sinners; but when they are rebuked for their faults, put themselves at once on the defensive. If these persons acknowledged their sinfulness with real Humility, and in consequence, truly despised themselves, they would not recall their own spontaneous confession, but would endure reproach peacefully.”

The third degree of Humility consists in so despising ourselves, that we rejoice at being made little of by others. This is indeed a lofty and arduous height, but yet may we reach it, and we should aspire to do this by the grace of God. Saint Diodorus distinguishes two sorts of Humility: one proper to proficients, the other to the perfect. The former feel pain and sadness under humiliation, because they have not yet subdued the perverse inclinations of nature: the latter, on the contrary, are filled with joy, having so completely overcome their passions, that these dare not raise their heads to renew the struggle. Whatever our state, we must do violence to ourselves in order to receive contentedly scorn, affronts, and insults; saying, in the will at least, even if our feelings make resistance: “Now, indeed, dear Jesus, am I become like unto Thee, Who wert so much despised for love of me. These outrages, persecutions, and slanders, though so repugnant in outward seeming, are the happiness, the blessedness, which Thou hast promised Thy servants. They are an earnest of the incorruptible, unspeakably great blessings which Thou art keeping in store for me above. It is right, then, that I should rejoice and be glad at receiving them.” Thus will love for our Saviour, and the hope of eternal bliss, assuage the bitterness which our frail nature cannot but feel under humiliation, and perhaps even change it into a spiritual joy. Such are the practical methods for exercising ourselves in Humility, which Directors should gradually bring their penitents to adopt, according to the disposition of each and the greater or lesser degree of progress which they may discover. As regards external humiliation, consisting in words, deeds, and gestures, I will add nothing, having sufficiently treated of the practice regarding these in the sixth Chapter.

Humility

To proceed then. Saint Bernard, speaking of this virtue, distinguishes a twofold Humility; which partly consists in the appreciation of the mind, and partly abides in the affection of the will. Through the former part, we know our nothingness and our misery; through the latter, despising ourselves, we trample under foot the empty glory of the world, and, after the example of Christ, we go forth to meet ignominy and reproach. The reader must not run away with the notion that to acquire this Humility of self-knowledge it is necessary to imagine evils and miseries within us which have no real existence. Never can true virtue take figments and false ideas as its rule of practice; much less does Humility need to ground its truthful, sincere, and holy acts on such falsehoods and fictions. It suffices that we know ourselves as we really are, and as we appear in the sight of God, in order to level with the earth the vain and groundless opinion we have formed of ourselves, and to attain that lowly, mean, and vile appreciation of self wherein Humility of the mind wholly consists.” 6

All Thee And No Me

So that the life that I enjoy comes not from me, but from God; my health is not mine, but God’s: the talents in which I glory, the birth of which I boast, the sprightliness and charm of manner, the gracefulness and beauty on which I pride myself, are not mine, but God’s. If, then, I consider what in me I hold from God and what from myself, I shall find that the account stands thus: I have all from God, from myself nothing. To assert that there is in me a single thing which comes not from God, would be the height of impiety, for it would be equivalent to saying that I have some one thing of which God is not the author. To assert that in me there is any single thing which I have from myself, would be impious presumption, as it would be to pretend, at least on this point, independence of God; to make myself, as it were, a second God. So that, if I have not made shipwreck of the faith, or lost my senses, I must needs own that all in me that is my own is mere nothingness, and that even now I am a mere nothing.” 7

1 Father Ralph Pfau Sobriety Without End page 291

2 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 398

3 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 379

4 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 383

5 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 420

6 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 372-3

7 Directorium Asceticum, volume 3, page 378