88. Even admitting the value of the world’s esteem and fame for the sole reason that we love and desire it in our hearts, we can infer from this how great is the virtue of humility, since, offering all that we hold so precious to God together with our self-esteem, we offer Him something that we value very highly.
The vow of chastity is considered heroic, be cause we thus sacrifice to God the pleasures of the senses. Martyrdom is considered heroic, because the martyr thus offers up his life as a holocaust to God. And it is also considered heroic to give all one’s goods to the poor. But our self-esteem is certainly what we hold more precious than either money, gratification of the senses, or even life itself, because we often risk all these things for the sake of our reputation. Thus by offering our self-esteem with humility to God we offer that which we deem most precious.
This is truly offering “sacrifice to God, and a good savour.” [Ecclus xlv, 20] Those who live in the world can often gain more merit by their humility of heart than those who are vowed to poverty and chastity in the sacred cloister, for it is by the practice of this humility that we form within ourselves the “new creature,” without which St. Paul says that” Neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision,” [Gal. vi, 15]
which is as much as to say that whether you are priest or layman your state can avail nothing without humility.
Humility without virginity may be pleasing to God, but never virginity without humility. Were not the five foolish virgins displeasing to Him? “Vanitate superbiæ,” says St. Augustine. And if the Blessed Virgin herself pleased God by her virginity, she also deserved to be chosen for His Mother because of her humility, as St. Bernard says: “By her virginity she pleased God, by her humility she conceived Him.” [Hom. I sup. “Missus est”]
89. It is very easy for a proud person to fall into grave and terrible sins; and after having fallen to find great difficulty in accusing himself of them in the Sacrament of penance; for loving his self-esteem and reputation too well and fearing to lose them in the eyes of his confessor, he would rather commit a sacrilege than disclose his weakness. He goes in search of a confessor to whom he is unknown so as to avoid shame; but since he felt no shame in sinning, why should he feel so much shame in confessing his sin, if it be not from motives of pride?
My soul, say to thyself: The reason why I do not feel true sorrow for my sins is because of my lack of humility, for it is impossible for the heart to feel either attrition or contrition if it is not humbled. I lack humility, and it is for this reason that I have not the courage to confess my sins straightforwardly and without excuse. Ask God for humility; and in measure as thy heart grows more humble, it will feel deeper sorrow for having offended Him, and from this heartfelt humility the words will flow without difficulty to thy lips, because “He that pricketh the heart bringeth forth resentment.” [Ecclus. xxii, 24]
It is pride that compels us to withhold our sins in the confessional and seek to palliate their wickedness with many excuses. O accursed pride, cause of innumerable sacrileges! But O blessed humility! King David was humble in his repentance, because he did not excuse his sins but publicly accused himself of them; nor did he lay the blame of his own sins on others, but attributed them only to his own wickedness: “I am he that have sinned.” [2 Kings xxiv, 17] And the Magdalen also in her repentance did not seek for Jesus Christ in some hidden spot, but sought Him in the house of the Pharisee and desired to appear as a sinner before all the guests. St. Augustine, being truly humble in his repentance, gave the confession of his sins to the whole world for his own greater confusion and shame.
90. It is difficult for us to realize our own nothingness, and it is difficult also to refer all things to God without reserving anything for ourselves, because is not our industry, our diligence, and the co-operation of our will really ours? Let us admit this, but if we take away the light, the help and the grace received of God, what remains to us of all these things? Our natural actions only become meritorious when they are supernaturalized by Christ Jesus. It is Jesus Christ who raises and ennobles all our actions, which in themselves would be entirely inadequate to procure for us the glory of eternal life.
How the will is moved by grace to co-operate with grace is a mystery which we do not fully comprehend; but it is certain that if we go to heaven we shall then render thanks for our salvation to the mercy of God alone: “The mercies of the Lord will I sing for ever.” [Ps. lxxxviii, 2] We may therefore say with holy King David, and be fully persuaded of its truth, that human nature is weaker and more impotent than we can imagine, because in the nature which we have received of God we have only, through the fall of Adam, ignorance of mind, weakness of reason, corruption of will, disorder of the passions, sickness and misery of the body. We have nothing therefore in which to glory, but in all things we can find fit cause for humiliation. « Humble thyself in all things,” [Ecclus iii, 20] says the Holy Ghost, and He does not tell us to humble ourselves in some things only but in all things—–in omnibus.
91. Holy humility is inimical to certain subtle speculations; for instance, you say that you cannot understand how it is that you are yourself mere nothingness, in doing and being, because you cannot help knowing that in reality You are something and can do many things; that you cannot understand why you are the greatest of all sinners, because you know so many others who are greater sinners than yourself; nor how it is that you merit all the vituperations of men, when you know that you have done no actions worthy of blame, but, on the contrary, many worthy of praise.
You should reprove yourself for being still so far from true humility in thinking that you could grasp the meaning of these things. The truly humble believes that he is of himself mere nothingness, a greater sinner than others, inferior to all, worthy of being reviled by all as being, more than all others, ungrateful to God. He knows that this feeling of his conscience is absolutely true, and does not care to investigate how this comes to be true; his knowledge is practical, and even if he does not understand himself, and cannot explain to others, with subtle reasoning, what he feels in his heart, he minds as little being unable to explain this as he minds his inability to explain how the eye sees, the tongue speaks, the ear hears. And from this we may infer that it is not necessary to have great talents in order to be humble, and therefore before the tribunal of God it will not be a valid excuse for us to say: “I have not been humble because I did not know, because I did not understand, because I did not study.” We can have a good will, a good heart, and yet not be clever; and there is no one who cannot grasp this truth, that from God comes all the good that he possesses and that no one has anything of his own except his own malice. “Destruction is thy own, O Israel: thy help is only in Me,” [Osee xiii, 9] said God by the mouth of His prophet.