81. To be humble, we must know ourselves; and this self-knowledge is difficult, but only by reason of our pride, the principal effect of which is to blind us. Therefore to acquire the virtue of humility we must first fight against and subdue its enemy pride; and in order to overcome it—–having prayed to God, with the valiant Judith: “Bring to pass, O Lord, that his pride may be cut off”—–three other things are necessary.
Firstly, in meditating on the subject, we ought to feel hatred and abhorrence of our pride, because we can never get rid of all the ills that affect our soul as long as we continue to love them. Secondly, we must make a firm resolution of amendment at all cost, because in whatever light we consider it, it will always be to our advantage. Thirdly, we should at once endeavour to uproot all our habits of pride, especially those which are most predominant, for it is well known that the longer we allow a had habit to grow, the stronger it will become, and the greater will be our difficulty in eradicating it: “And I said, now have I begun.” [Ps. lxxvi, 11]
We must not lose heart or be discouraged but commend ourselves to God’s mercy, this being above all things most necessary: “And He will do it.” [Ps. xxxvi, 5] It is through God’s grace alone that we can overcome our numerous evil passions, and it is through Him alone that we can hope to subdue our pride. Let us therefore cry unto Him with King David:” My mercy and my refuge: my support and my deliverer. My protector: and I have hoped in Him who subdueth my people under Him.” [Ps. cxliii, 2]
82. Is it not well to apply ourselves to eradicate a fault, when we know that by so doing our hearts will be gladdened? And therefore is it not true that once our pride, which is the cause ot so many of our troubles, is subdued, we shall be far happier?
We feel a natural aversion towards the proud, and we cannot love them; but may not this instinct of aversion which we have towards the proud be felt by others towards ourselves? For it is true that “Pride is hurtful always.” [Ecclus x, vii] Sometimes we lament that others do not love or esteem us. Let us examine the cause, and we shall find that it proceeds from our’ pride. On the other hand, do we not see the affection that is generally shown towards the humble? Every one seeks their company, everyone places confidence in them, every one wishes them well. This would be the case with us if we were humble; and what happiness we should feel in loving and being loved by all! It seems at first as if this were a question of human respect; but it is inspired by charity, and comes from God and from a desire to resemble Him. Humility is clad in the same garb as charity, which, St. Paul says, “is patient, is kind, envieth not, is not puffed up, is not ambitious.” [1 Cor. xiii, 4] And it is easy to invest humility with the same virtuous intentions as charity.
83. Pride is the root of all our vices, so that, when once we have uprooted it, those vices will little by little disappear also. This is the true reason of our having to accuse ourselves of the same sins over and over again in our confessions, because we never confess that pride which is the root of them all. We do not wonder when we see the fig-tree bearing its figs year after year, and the apple-tree its apples. No; because each tree bears its own fruit. In the same way pride is rooted like a tree in our hearts; and our sins of anger, envy, hatred, malice and uncharitableness and rash judgments of others which we confess over and over again are the fruit of pride; but as we never strike at the root of this pride these same sins, like clipped branches, ever sprout out anew. Let us endeavour to eradicate pride thoroughly, following the advice of St. Bernard: “Put the axe to the root” [Serm. 2 de Assum.] and then we shall have great joy and consolation in our own conscience.
We must regard pride as the king of all vices and follow the wise advice given by the king of Syria to his captains: “You shall not fight against any, small or great, but against the king only.” [3 Kings, xxiii, 31] Judith too, by killing the proud Holofernes, conquered the whole Assyrian army. And David triumphed over all the Philistines by slaying the proud Goliath; and in like manner we shall also triumph, because by conquering pride we shall have subdued all other vices.
King David erred in one thing, for knowing Absalom to be the chief of the rebels he yet commanded that he should neither be killed nor hurt: “Save me the boy Absalom.” [2 Kings, xvii, 15] Alas, how many imitators he has found! We know full well that pride is the chief rebel among all our passions, but notwithstanding it is the one which we seem to respect the most, and which we almost fear to offend displaying even a tendency to encourage it.
84. There are certain sins we seldom or never mention in our confessions, either because our conscience is too easy and elastic or perhaps because we do not really desire to amend. Pride is one of these sins; there are but few who accuse themselves of it; but those who really wish to amend their lives should make it a special subject of their examen and confession, so as to learn to hate it and repent of it; and to make firm resolutions of amendment in the future.
Whoever desires to make a good confession should not only confess his sin, but also the reason and occasion of the sin; saying for example: “I accuse myself of having taken pleasure in impure thoughts, caused by my want of custody of the eyes, too great freedom of speech, and frivolous behaviour.” And in the same way we must confess our sins of pride, saying: “I accuse myself of having been angry and annoyed with those around me, and the sole reason of my anger and annoyance was my pride. I accuse myself of having envied and even of having taken what belonged to others, only to satisfy my pride and vanity. I have also spoken with contempt of my neighbour and this again because of my pride, that can bear no one to be thought superior to myself.” Continue to examine all your faults in the same way, and you will find the truth of the inspired words:
“The spirit is lifted up before a fall”; [Prov. xvi, 18] and “Before destruction the heart of man is exalted.” [Ibid. xviii, 12] To subdue our pride it is well to mortify and shame it by these accusations which are also acts of virtuous humility, but it is most necessary too to insist upon our own amendment for “What doth his humbling himself profit him that doth the same again?” [Ecclus xxxiv, 31]
It is not enough to confess our sins, Holy Writ says, but it is necessary also to amend them so as to obtain God’s mercy: “He that shall confess his sins and forsake them shall obtain mercy.” [Prov. xxviii, 13]