70. To give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and are continually receiving is an excellent means of exercising humility, because by thanksgiving we learn to acknowledge the Supreme Giver of every good: and for this reason it is necessary for us always to be humble before God. St. Paul exhorts us to render thanks for all things and at all times: “In all things give thanks”; [1 Thess. v, 18] “Giving thanks always for all things.” [Ephes. v, 20] But that our thanksgiving may be an act of humility it must not only come from the lips but from the heart with a firm conviction that all good comes to us through the infinite mercy of God. Look at a beggar who has received a considerable gift from a rich man, with what warmth he expresses his gratitude! He is astonished that the rich man should have deigned to bestow a gift upon him, protesting that he is unworthy of it, and that he receives it, not through hisown merit, but through the noble kindness of the giver, to whom he will always be most grateful. He speaks from his heart because he knows his own miserable condition of poverty and the benign condescension of the rich man. And should the thanks we give to God be less than the thanks which are given from man to man? When one man can thus thank another, ought we not to blush with shame that there should be men who feel more humility of heart towards their fellow-men than we do towards God?
O my God, I thank Thee with all my heart for these benefits which I have received through Thy goodness alone, which I have not deserved and for which I have never given Thee thanks till now! It was through pride that I failed to give Thee the thanks due to Thee, and it is through pride that I have enjoyed all Thy gifts as if I had not received them at Thy hands. I detest my pride, and with Thy help I will remember to give Thee thanks at all times and for all things: “I will bless the Lord at all times,” [ Ps. xxxiii, 1] praise, bless and thank Thee for all Thy mercies for ever and ever: “The mercies of the Lord I will sing for ever.” [Ps. lxxxviii, 1]
71. The important point is that our heart should be humble, because this is what Christ seeks in us above all things. It is useless to mend the case and hands of a watch unless we also adjust the wheels and works, and in the same way it is useless for anyone to be modest in attire and bearing if there be no true humility in the heart.
We ought to apply our Saviour’s sayings to ourselves: “Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, that the outside may become clean,” [Matt. xxiii, 6] and learn from the teaching of St. Thomas that “from our interior disposition of humility proceed signs in words, deed and manner by which that is manifested without, which is within.” [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 6]
I admit the truth of that which was so often repeated in Holy Writ, that humility is a special gift of God, and that no one can possess it of himself “except God gave it”; [Wisd. viii, 21] but at the tribunal of God there will be no excuse for us for not having possessed humility, because we have been taught that we could obtain it by persevering prayer, and, if we have not used this means to obtain it, it will be our fault that we have not asked God for it, and therefore our fault that we have not obtained it. Our Saviour in His Gospel says: “Ask and you shall receive.” [John xvi, 24] If you want anything of Me, ask and you sha1l be heard. And can this virtue cost us less than the simple effort of asking it of God with great insistence? Therefore do not let us cease to ask for it and by the very method of obtaining it our hearts, our looks, our words, our movements, our bearing, and even our very thoughts will all be humble: “For from the heart come forth thoughts.” [Matt. xv, 19]
72. We often lament that we are unable to pray because of the many distractions which hinder our recollection and dry up the source of devotion in our hearts, but in this we err and do not know what we are saying. The best prayer is not that in which we are most recollected and fervent, but that in which we are most humble; because it is written: “The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds.” [Ecclus. xxxv, 21] And what distractionsof mind and heart can prevent our exercising humility? It is precisely in those moments when we feel irritable and tepid that we ought to show our humility, and how? By saying: O Lord, I am not worthy to remain here speaking to Thee so confidentially, I do not deserve the grace of prayer because it is a special gift which Thou bestowest upon those dear to Thee. It is enough for me to be Thy servant, chasing away my distractions as so many flies. For flies do not fly round boiling water, but only round tepid water, and all these distractions arise from mygreat tepidity. Ah,what an excellent prayer! So prayed Joshua, and the Lord heard his prayer: “Thou hast humbled thyself in the sight of God; I also have heard thee, saith the l.ord.” [2 Paral. xxxiv, 27] So prayed King David too in the anguish of his soul and was delivered: “I was humbled and He delivered me.” [Ps. cxiv, 6] The more the soul exalts itself and takes pleasure in its own meditation, so much the more does God exalt Himself above that soul and remains apart from it. “Man shall come to a deep heart and God shall be exalted.” [Ps. lxiii, 8] Do we desire that God in His mercy should come nigh to us? Let us humble ourselves. “Dost thou wish God to draw near to thee?” says St. Augustine, “humble thyself, for the more thou raisest thyself, the more will He be above thee.” [Enarr. in Ps. cxli]
73. Many people, when preparing for confession, distress themselves because they do not feel sufficient contrition for their sins; and in order to obtain it they beat their breasts to try and excite themselves to feelings of sorrow. But this is pride, for they give us to understand that they can thus obtain contrition of themselves. You desire true sorrow for you sins? Then be assured that this is a singular gift of God, and that to obtain it there is no better means than to humble oneself before Him.
Humility generates confidence, and God never refuses His grace to those who come to Him with humility and trust. Say therefore to God: I can remain here as long as I like and do all that I can to obtain sorrow for my sins, but it is impossible for me to attain to it of myself, if Thou dost not grant it to me, O my God! I do not deserve it, but Jesus Christ has merited it for me, and it is through His merits that I ask it, and through Thy infinite goodness that I hope to obtain it.
Place yourself in this humble disposition of mind and you will be happy, for it is written of God: that “He comforteth the humble”; [2 Cor. vii, 6] “and He hath had regard to the prayer of the humble and hath not despised their petition.” [Ps. ci, 18] This sorrow or contrition by which the soul is sanctified is one of the greatest graces that God can give us, and it would be presumption, temerity, and pride on our part to pretend to this grace without having asked for it with due humility.