96. We may compare ourselves to those who, suffering from foulness of breath consequent upon some disease, are rendered objectionable to those who approach them, although they are unaware of it themselves. In the same way when we are corrupted by interior pride we breathe the external signs of it in our words, looks and gestures and in a thousand other ways as occasion may arise, and yet, though our pride is apparent to all who approach us, we ourselves ignore it.
I am considered proud by those who know me, and they are not mistaken, for I show it by my vanity, arrogance, petulance and haughtiness. I only do not know myself as I am, and if I question myself: Am I proud? Oh, no, I answer, offering to myself incense which is more nauseous than all.
97. It is necessary to discern in the Gospel those things which are of counsel and those which are of precept. To renounce all that one has and to suffer poverty for the love of God is only of counsel, but to renounce oneself and to be poor of heart is of precept. And in the same way certain exterior humiliations may be only of counsel, but the humility of heart is always of precept, and as it is not only possible to fulfill every precept of God’s, but also by the help of His grace it becomes easy and sweet to us to practice them; even laymen have many great opportunities of becoming holy simply by the exercise of humility. To make a worldly-minded man a Saint it is sufficient to make him a Christian.
When such thoughts as these arise in the secret recesses of the heart: I have made this fortune by my knowledge, by my industry; I have acquired this merit, this reputation by my own worth, my virtue, my ingenuity, it is enough to lift up one’s heart to God and say with the Wise Man: “And how could anything endure, if Thou wouldst not?” [Wisd. xi, 26] O my God, how could I have done the smallest thing, if Thou hadst not willed it?
This is true humility, and in this lies true knowledge and holiness. The soul is holy in measure as it is humble, because in the same measure that it has holiness it has grace, and in the same measure that it has grace it has humility, because grace is only given to the humble.
From the depths of my heart, O my God, I ask it of Thee, and with the Psalmist I exclaim: “Renew a right spirit within me.” [Ps. 1, 12]
98. But the greatest motive we have to oblige us to be humble is the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came down from heaven to teach us the humility of which we stood in such need to cure our pride, the cause of all our ills, and the greatest impediment to our eternal salvation. “Therefore Christ” says St. Thomas “recommended humility to us above everything else, because by this more especially all hindrance to the salvation of men is removed.” [2a 2æ, qu. clxxi, art. 5 ad 3]
And in truth He has taught us most excellently, not only by word but by deed. Let us meditate upon the life of our Lord on earth, from the cave of Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary; all breathes of humility. More than once did He declare in the Gospel that He came not to fulfill His own will but that of His heavenly Father; not to seek His own glory but that of His heavenly Father: and as He preached so He lived. He might have glorified the Divine Majesty in divers other ways; but, in His infinite wisdom, He chose the way of humility as the most suitable one for rendering unto God, by His own humility, that honour of which the pride of man has deprived Him.
What humility, to be born in a stable—–He who was the King of Glory! What humility in Him, who was innocence itself, to appear as a sinner at the circumcision! What humility in the flight into Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod, as if He had been incapable of saving Himself otherwise than by flight! What humility in His subjection to Mary and Joseph, He who was King of the whole universe! What humility in living for thirty years a hidden life of poverty, He who could have been surrounded by all the splendour of the world! With what humility He bore all the insults and calumnies He received in return for the truths He preached and the miracles He worked, never complaining or lamenting those ills that were done to Him, nor the injustice that was shown to Him! Oh, if one could have looked into His Heart, one would have seen that His humility was not obligatory but voluntary, “because it was His own will.” [Isa. liii. 7]
He desired to humble Himself thus in order that we might make Him our pattern, and He says to each one of us: “For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you so you do also,” [John xiii, 15] which means that He gave us this example so that we might learn to humble ourselves even as He humbled Himself from His heart. Ah, will not these examples of a God who became man and humbled Himself suffice to rouse in us the wish to become humble also? “Let man be ashamed to be proud,” says St. Augustine, “for whose sake a God became humble.” [Enarr. in Ps. xviii]
99. And what lessons of humility may we not learn from the sacred Passion of our Lord? St. Peter tells us that Jesus Christ suffered for us, leaving us His example so that we might imitate Him: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps.” [1 Pet. ii, 21]. He does not pretend that we ought to imitate Him by being scourged, crowned with thorns, or nailed to the cross. No; but in all His life, and especially during His Passion, He repeats that important exhortation that we should learn of Him to be humble: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” [Matt. xi, 29]
My soul, let us gaze upon the Crucified, “Who endured the cross, despising the shame”; [Heb. xii, 2] and by thus confronting His humility with our pride we shall be filled with shame and confusion. And learn yet another lesson. Does it seem well to thee to adore the humility of Jesus crucified and not to wish to imitate Him? To profess to follow Jesus Christ in His religion, which is founded on humility, and yet to feel aversion and even hatred towards this very humility?
But when we so often hear it said and preached that whoever wishes to be saved must imitate the Saviour, in what do we imagine that this imitation, which is commanded to us and which is necessary for our salvation, should consist if not in humility? It is all very well to say that we must imitate Jesus, but in what must we imitate Him if not in this humility which is the summing-up of all the doctrine and examples of His life?
For that Humble One on the Cross will be our Judge; and His humility will be the standard by which it will be seen whether we shall be predestined for having imitated it, or eternally condemned for having rejected it. It is necessary for us to be firmly convinced of this truth. God does not propose that we should all imitate His Incarnate Son in all the mysteries of His life. The solitude and austerity which He endured in the desert are reserved only for the imitation of anchorites. In His teaching He is only to be imitated by the apostles and preachers of His Gospel. In the working of miracles only those can imitate Him who have been chosen by Him to be co-adjutors in the establishment of the Faith. In the sufferings and agony of Calvary none may imitate Him but those to whom He has given the privilege of Martyrdom.
But that humility of heart practiced by Jesus Christ in every hour of His life on earth is given to all of us as an example which we are compelled to follow, and to this imitation God has united our eternal salvation: “Unless you be converted and become as a little child.” [Matt. xviii, 3]
We may believe that Jesus Christ was comparing Himself with a little child whom He had before Him when He said:” Unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” [Matt. xviii, 3].