92. Humility is a potent means of subduing temptation, and in the same way temptations serve to maintain humility; because it is when we are tempted that we are practically conscious of our own weakness and the need we have of Divine grace.
It is for this that God permits us to fall into temptation, reducing us sometimes to the very brink of succumbing to it, so that we may learn the weakness of our virtue and how much we need the help of God.
And even in this we can see the infinite wisdom of God who has so disposed that the demons themselves, spirits of pride, should contribute to render us humble if we only knew how to make a good use of our temptations. Nevertheless, we must remember that in all our temptations the first thing is to exercise that humility which is derived from a practical knowledge of ourselves and of how prone we are to evil if God does not stretch out His hand to restrain us through His grace. Do not let us wait to learn our weakness till we have fallen; but let us rather know it beforehand, and the knowledge of it will be an efficacious means to keep us from falling. “Before sickness take a medicine; humble thyself,” [Ecclus. xviii, 20, 21] says Holy Writ. The humble will never want for grace in the time of temptation, and with the help of this grace they will even derive profit from these very temptations; for the merciful providence of God has so disposed it that with the special aid of His grace He will “let no temptation take hold on you.” [1 Cor. x, 13]
93. Let us strive with all our might to acquire this holy humility; and if, by the help of God, we succeed in possessing it only in such measure as our state of life demands, we shall then either imperceptibly attain to all other virtues or this humility alone will suffice to compensate for all our deficiencies. Many people desire to possess either chastity or charity, gentleness or patience, or some other virtue of which they are more in need, and are most anxious to know how they are to acquire it; they consult various spiritual directors to learn what means to take, but very few exercise due prudence in the choice of these means.
Do you wish to know the most efficacious means of acquiring these virtues? Then begin by endeavouring to acquire humility; impregnate yourself with humility, and you will soon find that all other virtues will follow without any effort on your part, and you will exclaim with great joy: “Now all good things came to me together with her.” [Wisd. vii, 11] And even when, through the frailty of your own nature, you are deficient in some particular virtue, humble yourself, and that humility will fully compensate for your other deficiencies.
There are some who are troubled because their prayers are full of distractions. This proceeds from pride, which is presumptuous enough to be astonished at the weakness and impotency of the mind. When you perceive that your thoughts are wandering, make an act of humility, and exclaim: ” O my God, what an abject creature I am in not being able to fix my thoughts on Thee even for a few moments.” Renew this act of humility as often as these distractions occur, and if it is written of charity that “it covereth a multitude of sins,” [ 1 Pet. iv, 8] it is also true of humility and contributes greatly to our perfection. “The very knowledge of our imperfection,” says St. Augustine, “tends to the praise of humility.”
[Lib. 3 ad Bonif., c. vii]
94. We have more opportunities of practicing humility than any other virtue. How many occasions we have of humbling ourselves secretly, in all places, at all times, at every turn—–towards God, our fellow-men, and even towards ourselves! With regard to God: how much we have to be ashamed of in our ignorance and ingratitude towards Him; receiving as we do continual benefits of His infinite goodness. Knowing as we do His supreme and infinite Majesty, deserving of all fear; His infinite goodness, worthy of all love; how much we ought to humble ourselves in the thought of how little fear and love we have for Him! With regard to our neighbour: if he be wicked, we may humble ourselves by reflecting that we are capable of becoming suddenly worse than he, and in fact we may consider ourselves worse already if pride predominates within us. If he be good, we must humble ourselves in the thought that he corresponds better than we do to the grace of God and is better than we are by reason of his humility of heart. With regard to ourselves, we need never lack opportunities of humility when we remember our past sins, or consider the faults we commit at present in our daily life, or even when we reflect upon our good works which are all tainted with imperfection, or when we think of the future so filled with tremendous uncertainty: “I know how to be brought low everywhere and in all things,” [Phil. iv, 12] says St. Paul. It is necessary for us to form the good habit of frequently renewing these interior acts of humility. Humility is merely a virtuous habit, but how can we acquire this habit without making repeated acts of humility? Like the habit of humility the habit of pride is acquired through frequent repetition of its acts, and in proportion as the habit of humility is strengthened, the contrary habit of pride becomes weakened and diminished.
95. Lucifer sinned once only through pride of thought. Ought we not therefore to consider ourselves worse than Lucifer as our pride has become habitual through the frequent repetition of its acts? We do not consider ourselves proud, because it does not seem to us that we are rash enough in our minds either to believe that we resemble God or to rebel against God; but this is the greatest mistake we can make, because we are full of pride and will not recognize that we are proud. Even if we have not sufficient pride to rebel, to think or to speak against God, we must be fully aware that the pride which prompts our actions is far worse than the pride of thought, and is that pride which is so condemned by St. Paul: “They profess that they know God, but in their works they deny Him.” [Tit. i, 16]
How great is our self-love! Do we ever mortify our passions for the love of God as He Himself has commanded? How often do we prefer to follow our own will instead of the will of God, and as His will is contrary to our own we place ourselves in opposition to Him and desire to gain our own will instead of fulfilling His, valuing the satisfaction of our desires more than the obedience we owe to God! Is not this a worse pride than Lucifer’s? for Lucifer only wanted to make himself equal to God, whereas we wish to raise our will above God’s. Thou must humble thyself, O my soul, even below Lucifer, and confess that thou art more proud than he!