63. I ought to be most grateful to anyone who helps to keep me in humility by subjecting me to humiliations of word and deed, because he is co-operating with the Divine mercy to fulfill the work of my eternal salvation. And although he has no thought of my salvation when he offends me, he is nevertheless an instrument thereof, and all the evil comes from me if I do not make a good use of it. St. Ambrose says of David when he was insulted by Semei with vituperations and stoning, that he “held his peace and humbled himself,” [Lib. 1, Offic., cap. xviii] keeping his mind fixed on this one thought: “The Lord hath bid him curse me.” [2 Kings xvi, 10] We are grateful to the surgeon who bleeds us, even though he may not be thinking of our health but of this particular office of his profession. Therefore if we understood this, not as Stoic philosophers but as good Christians, we ought to be grateful to those who humiliate us, for although they have no intention of making us humble but only of humiliating us, yet in reality this humiliation helps us to acquire humility if such be our desire.
The benefit is a real benefit, although he who confers it has no intention that it should be so. An insult is only an insult in the intention of the man who gives it, and the humiliation belongs only to him who receives it; and it is a most sure means of acquiring and practicing humility, if he knows how to receive it in a Christian spirit.
To this end God permits us to be humiliated at itimes so that we may give a proof of our virtue “in the furnace of humiliation,” [Ecclus. ii, 5] and the teacher of this wise rule goes on to say: “Humble thy heart and endure.” [Ecclus. ii, 2]
64. Everything depends upon the way in which we take things. To rule our life by the maxims of the world, is certain to inspire pride; and it is equally certain that to rule ourselves by the maxims of the Gospel will inspire humility. According to the world we should repulse an insult with anger and resentment, but according to the Gospel we should accept it with a humble, prudent and meek patience. “This saying is hard.” [John vi, 61] But how much patience do we not exercise to please the world! Patience that is often bitter and hard! And shall it therefore be a “hard saying” that we are to have patience and humility in order to please God? Ah, miserable soul of mine, let us attend to the things of this world, the thoughts and ideas and scruples of this world, its obligations and opinions, its politics and loves and caprices! I know well that humility can only be laborious and wearisome in such an atmosphere, so full of worldliness, for as Holy Writ says: “Humility is an abomination to the proud.” [Ecclus. xiii, 24] But let us rise above the world and its opinions, and in the light of the eternal truth of faith we shall find that this virtue is not only easy but sweet and pleasing, because all that Christ has told us is true, and after having exhorted us to learn humility from him, “Learn of Me for I am meek and humble of heart,” He immediately added, “For My yoke is easy and My burden light.” Truth cannot lie; it is we who refuse to listen to it. We are ruled by the world, and so to hear humility spoken of is a “hard saying.” But let us remember that it is a “true saying.” For if we are not humble we cannot be saved.
Great is the kingdom to which we aspire, says St. Augustine; but humble is the way which leads to it: “Excelsa est patria, humilis est via.” Of what use is our longing for Paradise if we will not walk in the path of humility which is the only way that leads to it? “Why does he seek his native land who refuses to follow the way that leads to it.” [Tract. 78]
65. When I consider the words which Jesus Christ addressed to His heavenly Father in prayer, saying that He did not pray for the world,” I pray not for the world” [John xviii, 9]—–and again that, when praying for His disciples that His prayer might be more efficacious, He emphasized the fact that they were not followers of the world, “They are in the world, but they are not of the world”—–I confess that no words of our Saviour in the whole Gospel terrify me more than these. For I perceive that it is necessary for me to separate myself from the world, so that Jesus Christ may intercede for me. And if I am a lover of the world, I shall be excommunicated by Jesus Christ and shall have no part in His intercessions and prayers. These are the words of Christ Himself: “I pray not for the world, but for those who are not of the world.”
Let us really understand these words: that Jesus Christ excludes us from His kingdom if we belong to the world, that is to say if we wish to follow the maxims of the world which are nothing but vanity and deceit and fill man with pride; the maxims of the world which the prophet says “turn aside the way of the humble.” [Amos ii, 7] Meanwhile Jesus Christ is our advocate with the Father in so far as, renewing our Baptismal vow, we renounce the world and accept the maxims of the Gospel which are true and tend to make man humble. To serve both God and the world is impossible, because we could never please both—–“he will hold to the one and despise the other.” [Luke xvi, 13]
To pretend to serve God and the world is the same as to imagine that we can be both humble and proud at the same time. Vain dream!