Humility Of Heart Part 7

30. At times we are over-scrupulous about works of supererogation, such for instance as having omitted on such a day to say a certain prayer or to perform some self-imposed mortification; these are scruples of omissions which in regard to our eternal salvation are of little or no importance; but we take but little heed of that humility which is to us most essential and necessary and without which no one can be saved. St. Paul warns us: “Do not become children in sense.” [1 Cor. xiv, 20] Do not be like children who cry and despair if an apple is taken away from them, but care little for losing a gem of great value. Let us place humility above all things. It is the hidden treasure buried in the field, to acquire which we ought to sell all we possess. [Matt. xiii, 44] It is the pearl of great price, to obtain which we should sell all we have. [Matt. xiii. 45]

Do not let us call these sins against humility scruples, but let us regard them as real sins, worthy of confession and of amendment. May God guard us from too easy a conscience in respect to that true humility which is commanded us in the Gospel. We should indeed be taking the broad way mentioned by the Holy Ghost, which though it seems the right and straight road nevertheless leads direct to perdition: “There is a way that seemeth to a man right, and the ends thereof lead to death.” [Prov. xvi, 25]

There are people who think like the Pharisees that virtue and sanctity consist in prayers of great length, in the visiting of churches, and in some special abstinence, in retreats, in modesty of attire, in spiritual conferences or in some exercise of exterior piety; but in all this who thinks of humility? Who esteems it and studies to acquire it? What is all this then but a vain delusion?

31. We read of various ancient philosophers who bore calumny, insults and contempt with perfect equanimity and without anger or perturbation, but they did not even know the name of humility. Their courageous fortitude was only an effect of refined pride, for as they considered themselves far above kings and emperors they cared little about insults, and maintained their equanimity by the contempt with which they looked down on those who insulted them. They overcame their feeling of resentment by a passion that was more dominating still, and that they were modest, peaceable and gentle was an effect of that pride which despotically ruled the feelings of their hearts.

There is an immense difference between the morality of human philosophy and that evangelical morality taught by Jesus Christ. Read the works of Seneca attentively—–he who was held to exceed all other philosophers in morality,—–and you will see how in those very maxims with which he teaches magnanimity and fortitude he also instills pride. Read the works of the most famous of the Stoics, and you will say with St. Jerome that “When they are studied with the greatest care and attention, there is to be found no satisfactory fullness of truth, no correspondence with the true principles of justice.” [Epist. 146, ad Damas.]

All is vanity that only inspires vanity.

It is only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that are to be found the rules of that humility of heart which is true virtue, consisting in the knowledge of God’s greatness and of our own nothingness; and it is by attending to the study of this wise humility that we fulfill the Apostolic precept: “Not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety.” [Rom. xii, 3]

Jesus Christ before teaching anything of His new law wished to teach humility, as St. John Chrysostom observes: “When He began to lay down His Divine laws, He started with humility.” [Hom. 39 in Matt.] For without humility it is impossible to comprehend this Heavenly doctrine, but with humility we are enabled to understand everything that is necessary or useful to our salvation.

32. To confess our unworthiness and nothingness and to proclaim that all that is good in us comes from God is often the sterile exercise of a very contemptible humility, and may even be great pride, “magna superbia,” as St. Augustine observes, and St. Thomas teaches: “Humility, which is a virtue, is always fruitful in good works.” [22, qu. clxi, art. .5, ad 4]

Do you wish to have an idea of what that humility is which is a true virtue? The soul is truly humble when it recognizes that its true position in the order of nature or of grace is entirely dependent on the power, providence and mercy of God; so that finding in itself nothing but what is of God, it appropriates to itself only its own nothingness, and abiding in its nothingness it places itself on the level of all other creatures without raising itself in any way above them. It annihilates itself before God, not so as to remain in an otiose inactivity, but seeking rather to glorify Him continually, conforming with exact obedience to His laws and with perfect submission to His will.

Humility has two eyes: with one we recognize our own misery so as not to attribute to ourselves anything but our nothingness; with the other we recognize our duty to work and to attribute everything to God, referring all things to Him: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory.” [Ps. cxiii, 1]

The truly humble man considers that whatever is good to his material or spiritual nature is like unto the streams that have come originally from the sea and must eventually return to the sea; and therefore he is always careful to render to God all that he has received from God, and neither prays nor loves nor desires anything except that in all things the name of God be sanctified: “Hallowed be Thy name.” [Matt. vi, 9]

33. Humility is not a sickly virtue, timid and feeble as some imagine; on the contrary, it is strong, magnanimous, generous and constant, because it is founded on truth and justice. The truth consists in knowing What God is and what we are. Justice consists in our recognizing that God as our Creator has a right to command us, and that we as His creatures are bound to obey Him.

All the Martyrs were perfectly humble because they preferred to die suffering the most terrible torments rather than abandon truth and justice. How great their endurance and courage in resisting those who tried to force them to deny Jesus Christ!

To contradict others is an effect of pride whenever we contradict them in order to follow our own unjust and mistaken will; but when our opposition to the creature proceeds from a determination to fulfill the will of the Creator it is dictated by humility; for by this we confess our indispensable obligation to be subject and obedient to the Divine will.

It is for this reason that the proud man is always timid because his pride is only sustained by the weakness of human nature. And he who is humble is always brave in the exercise of his submission to the Divine Majesty because he receives his strength through grace.

The humble obey men, when in so doing they also obey God; but they refuse obedience to men, when by obeying them they would disobey their God. Reflect upon that answer, as modest as it was magnanimous, given before the elders of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. John: “If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye.” [Acts iv, 19]

The humble man is above all human respect, and there is no danger that he will become a slave to the opinions, fashions or customs of the world; he knows his failings and that he is capable of every evil even though he does not commit it. If he sees others doing wrong he compassionates them, but is never scandalized or induced to follow the bad examples of others; because all his intentions are directed towards God, and he has no other desire than that of pleasing God and of being directed by God alone. “He clings to God alone;” hence, as the angelic St. Thomas says so well: “No matter how much he sees others acting inordinately in word or deed, he himself will not depart from his uprightness of conduct.” [22, qu. xxxiii, art. 5]