59. Whenever it happens that we do good to the souls of others, either by instruction or good advice, or by our discourses and good example, it is then more than at any other time that we should consider ourselves bound to be humble for this reason, which is founded on faith and truth: God chooses things most vile, most weak, most base and most worthy of contempt in this world for the fulfilment of His great purposes, and this is a truth revealed by the Holy Ghost through the mouth of St. Paul: “But the foolish things of the world, and the weak things of the world, and the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen.” [1 Cor. i, 27, 28]
Therefore it follows that if God has made me His instrument to sow good seed in the souls of others, that they may bring forth fruit unto everlasting life, which is the most wonderful work that proceeds from His mercy and omnipotence, I must in consequence count myself in truth amongst the vilest and most contemptible things of this world. “And the base things of the world and the things that are contemptible and things that are not.” This is an article of faith.
If a soul were to be lost through my bad example or advice, I should certainly be the author and cause of its destruction, but if a soul should be saved either by my word or deed I cannot attribute the glory to myself, because the salvation of that soul will have been wholly the work of God: “Salvation is of the Lord.” [Ps. iii, 9]
The gifts of knowledge, wisdom and eloquence and even of working miracles, are graces that are called gratis datæ and are sometimes even given to the wicked. Sanctifying grace alone which is given to him who lives in humility and charity is that which renders the soul precious in the eyes of God; but no one is sure of possessing it.
60. As Paradise is only for the humble, therefore in Paradise everyone will have more or less glory according to his degree of humility. God has exalted Jesus Christ in glory above all, because He was the humblest of all: being the true Son of God He yet elected to become the most abject of all men. And after Jesus Christ the most exalted of all was His holy Mother, because being superior to all in her dignity as Mother of God she yet humbled herself more than all by her profound humility. This rule, dictated by the wisdom of God, applies to all the other Saints who are exalted in their glory in Heaven in proportion to their humility on earth.
Holy Writ says truly that “Humility goeth before glory.” [Prov. xv, 33] Job had said the same: “For he that hath been humbled shall be in glory.” [ Job xxii, 29] But the Saviour of the world spoke more plainly still when, having shown that humility was necessary to enter the kingdom of Heaven, He called unto Him a little child, and said: “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of Heaven.” [Matt. xviii, 4] And, oh, how precious humility must be when God recompenses it with eternal glory! Oh, my soul, lift up the eyes of thy faith to Paradise, and consider whether it be not best to be humble in our short existence here on earth, so as to enter with joy into the immeasurable glory of that happy eternity? “For that which is at present momentary, worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory.” [Cor. iv, 17] Recommend thyself with all thy heart to that God, “Who setteth up the humble on high.” [Job v, 11]
61. The proof of true humility is patience: neither meekness of speech, nor humbleness of bearing, nor the giving up of oneself to lowly works, are sufficient indications by which to judge if a soul is truly humble. There are many who bear all the appearance of exterior humility, but who are angered at every slight adversity, and resent any little vexation which they may encounter.
If under certain circumstances we show toleration and patience in bearing an insult, in suffering a wrong in silence without indignation and anger or resentment, it is a good sign, and we may begin to conclude that we have some humility; but even then patience can only be an infallible sign of true humility when it proceeds from the recognition of our own unworthiness and when we tolerate the wrong because we know that we ourselves are full of faults and are deserving of it.
And how do we stand in regard to this patience, O my soul? O my God, how much pride I find even in my patience! Sometimes I suffer a wrong, but at the same time I feel that I am wronged. I suffer an insult, but consider that I do not deserve it: and if others do not esteem me, yet I esteem myself. Is there humility here? Not a vestige of it!
The holy fathers attribute to Jesus Christ the words which the prophet says of himself: “For I am ready for scourges” [Ps. xxxvii, 18], because by reason of our iniquities which He had taken upon Himself He considered Himself deserving of all the penalties and opprobrium of the world. Here is the pattern of true humility.
Very different is the patience of the philosophers and stoics, and the patience of worldly people from that of true Christians. The stoics taught great patience in their writings and by their example, but it was a patience that was the outcome of pride, self-esteem and contempt for others. The worldly-minded, it is true, bear the many anxieties and afflictions of their own state of life with patience, but it is a patience that proceeds from interested motives or the necessity of worldly prudence. Christians alone possess that patience united to humility which receives every adversity with submission to the Divine will: and this is the patience which is pleasing to God; for, as St. Augustine says: “That which a man does from pride is not pleasing to God, but that which he does from humility is acceptable to Him.”
62. The following thoughts may sometimes trouble us: Who knows whether my past confessions have been good? Who knows whether I have felt real sorrow for my sins? Who knows if my sins have been forgiven? Who knows whether I am in the grace of God? Who knows whether I shall obtain the grace of final perseverance, and who knows if I am predestined to be saved? But it is not God’s intention that this uncertainty should cause us these anxieties and scruples. In His infinite wisdom He has hidden from us the mysteries of His justice and mercy, so that our ignorance should prove a most efficacious help to keep us in humility. Therefore the profit we ought to derive from such thoughts is this: to live always in fear and humility before God, to do good diligently and to avoid evil without ever exalting ourselves in our self-esteem above others because we do not know what our doom may be. “Serve ye the Lord with fear.” [Ps. ii, 11] “Fear the Lord all ye His Saints.” [ Ps. xxxiii, 10]
Such is the Divine will towards us, manifested through St. Paul. God expects us always to be humble, whether it be for that which He reveals to us or for that which He withholds from us. When we read the Holy Scriptures, we find many prophecies proceeding from the Holy Ghost that terrify us; but many others that console us. When we read the writings of the holy fathers we find in them some judgments that are very terrible, and some that are very lenient. When we read the theological works of the scholastics we find in them opinions upon the subjects of grace and predestination that alarm us and others that encourage us. Why is this? The Providence of God has thus disposed it, so that between hope and fear we might remain humble.
The mysteries of grace and predestination would no longer be mysteries if we were capable of grasping them with our understanding. To pause and consider whether God has forgiven our sins or not, and whether we are living in a state of grace, or whether we are predestined, etc., is in itself an act of temerity and pride, inasmuch as we are seeking to know the hidden judgments of God Who does not wish us to know them so that we may remain in humility. “Be not highminded but fear,” says St. Paul. [Rom. xi, 20]