Humility Of Heart Part 13

54. O my soul, humble thyself in the remembrance that there is a Hell, not considering it only in the abstract, nor even as a contrivance for the punishment of sinners in general, but regard it rather as a place specially prepared for thyself, and deserved by thee more than once!

For there the proud will be cast headlong, and I should be there with them at this moment, eternally insulted and tormented by devils, had I not been preserved therefrom by the mercy of God. Millions of Angels have been imprisoned there for having committed one sole sin of pride and that only in thought. Ah, my soul, continue thus in thy pride and thy false self-esteem, guarding thy own susceptibilities and oblivious of the rights of others, and “thou shalt be brought down to Hell;” that place of torment awaits thee, and there below thy pride shall indeed be humbled. Thou who delightest now in thy own proud thoughts shalt there be thrust into flames of fire, and thou who now wishest to be above all shalt then be below all. For there below thou wilt have to face a God Who bears an infinite hatred to the proud and is infinitely angry with them. And as it is a truth that the humble shall be exalted in Heaven, it is also a truth that the proud shall be humbled and cast down into Hell.

“And the rich man also died”; thus writes St. Luke of a proud man who was “clothed in purple and fine linen.” And the rich man died—–that is the end of all humanity and vanity; and “he was buried in Hell” [Luke xvi, 22] —–that is the end of all pride. The grave is the end of man; Hell is the end of the proud.

55. But above all the thought of eternity should keep us humble. Taking it for granted that I am mistaken in practicing humility in this world, and in giving place to others, I know that my mistake is small because everything below comes quickly to an end; but if I am deceiving myself by living in reckless pride, my mistake is great because it will last for all eternity. But even if I am living in humility, I must still fear because I can never be sure whether this humility which I think I possess is true humility or not; how much more then should I fear if I am living in open pride? So be it, O my soul! satisfy all thy proud desires: be thou esteemed, praised and honored by all the world; possess knowledge, riches and pleasure without adversity, without opposition, without any obstacles to trouble thee or restrain thy vicious passions. And then? And then? I pray thee in this to imitate the proud Nabuchodonosor, who even in the fulness of his power thought of “what should come to pass hereafter.” [Dan. ii, 29] All is vanity that hath an end; and we are doomed to enter into that eternity which hath no end; therefore what will be the end of the vanity of thy pride? The most ignominious humiliation:. and most bitter lamentations that will last for ever and ever.

On this side the grave all things pass away, but on the other side what will become of me? Quid futurum post hæc? To this I give no thought; and to speak the truth this is the reason why I am dominated by vanity, because I give so little thought to eternity. King David was most humble of heart because he he was filled with the dread of eternity: “And I meditate in the night with my own heart: Will God then cast off for ever.” [Ps. lxxvi, 7, 8] Whenever the world offers thee honors, fame and pleasure, remember, my soul, to say within thyself: And then? And then? “Remember what things have been before thee.” [Ecclus xli, 5]

How many of those who were conspicuous amongst the proud of this world have overcome their pride and acquired humility by one single serious thought of eternity! The words of the prophet have always been and will always be found true: “And the ancient mountains were crushed to pieces, the hills of the world were bowed down by the journeys of His eternity.” [Hab. iii, 6]

56. There is one kind of pride which is more abominable in the eyes of God than any other, and it is that, says Holy Writ, which belongs more especially to the poor. “A poor man that is proud My soul hateth.” [Ecclus xxv, 4] If the pride of one who is rich in merit, talents and virtues—–treasures most precious to the soul—–is displeasing to God, still more displeasing to Him will it be in one who has not these same motives for pride, but who on the contrary has every reason to be humble. And this, I fear, is the pride of which I am guilty.

I am poor in soul, without virtue or merit, full of iniquity and malice, and yet I esteem myself and love my own esteem so much that I am troubled if others do not esteem me also. I am truly a poor, proud, miserable creature; and the greater my poverty, the more my pride is detestable in the eyes of God. All this proceeds from not knowing myself. Grant, O my God, that I may say with the prophet: “I am the man that see my poverty.” [Lam. iii, 1] Make known unto me, O Lord, mine own wretchedness, that of myself I am nothing, know nothing, and possess nothing but my sins, and deserve nothing but Hell. I have received from Thee many graces, lights and inspirations, and much help, and yet with what ingratitude have I responded to Thy infinite goodness! Who more sinful, who more ungrateful, and who more wicked than I? The more Thou hast done for me, the more humble I ought to be, for I shall have to render unto Thee a most strict account of all Thy benefits: “And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required.” [Luke xii, 48] And yet the greater Thy goodness, the greater my pride. I blush with shame, and it is the knowledge of my pride that obliges me now to be humble.

57. It is easier to be humble in adversity than in prosperity, and it is impossible to say how much temporal happiness influences man to be proud. “They are not in the labor of men”; [Ps. lxxii, 5] thus the Prophet-King speaks of sinners, and adds: “Therefore pride hath held them fast.” [Ps. lxxii, 6]

Adversity counterbalances our self-love and prevents its growth, for on the one hand it makes known our frailties to us, the more so when it is unexpected and grievous, and on the other hand it compels us to turn our thoughts to God, implore His mercy, and humble ourselves under His hand, as did the prophet: “In my affliction I called on the Lord”; [Ps. xvii, 7] “And as one sorrowful so was I humbled.” [Ps. xxxiv, 14] Therefore, if we know not how to bear our tribulations with cheerfulness, let us at least endure them with patience and humility.

Oh, how precious are those humiliations by which we acquire, and learn to exercise, humility! It is then that we ought to exclaim with the psalmist, “Thou hast humbled the proud one, as one that is slain”; [Ps. lxxxviii, 11] or else, like King Nabuchodonosor when he came to his senses, and humbly exclaimed: “Therefore I do now praise and magnify and glorify the King of Heaven, because them that walk in pride He is able to abase.” [Dan. iv, 34] Afflictions are not wanting in this vale of tears, but there are few who know how to use them as a means of becoming humble. Grant of Thy mercy, O my God, that I may be amongst those few!

58. We must not be too apt to flatter ourselves that we possess any special virtue. Our chastity may be the result of a want of opportunities or temptations: and in like manner our patience may proceed from a phlegmatic temperament, or be dictated by worldly, and not by Christian, wisdom. This can be said of many other virtues in which we are liable to make the same mistake.

We must study this doctrine well, that the true Christian virtues are “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God”; [John i, 13] that is, that they are not the work either of the desires, passions or reason of man, but proceed from God as their first principle, and return to God as their last end. This knowledge is necessary for us, so that we may not imagine ourselves to be virtuous when we are not, nor think ourselves better than others when we see them falling into some sin.

We should ever learn lessons of humility from the faults of others, and say: If I had found myself in like circumstances, and had had the same temptation, perhaps I should have done worse. If God does not permit great temptations to assail me, it is because He knows my weakness and that I should succumb to them; with eyes of compassion He sees what I am, “a weak man.” [Wisd. ix, 5] And if I do not fall into sin, it is not by my own virtue, but by God’s grace. Let me therefore abide in humility, and it is to my advantage, because if in my pride I count myself greater than others, God will abandon me and suffer me to fall, and will humble me through those very things for which I wish to exalt myself. Listen to the advice of St. Augustine: “I make bold to say that it is profitable for the proud to fall, in order that they may be humbled in that for which they have exalted themselves.” [Serm. liii, de Verb. Dom.]