Practical Examen on the Virtue of Humility
NOW that you are conversant with the idea of humility, in its necessity, its excellence and its motives, I am persuaded that a fervent desire to practice it has been excited in your heart. But because, on the one hand, you cannot do this without the special help of God, and, on the other, God will work nothing in you without you—–that is, without the co-operation of your own will—–it therefore follows that when you have invoked the Divine help, not doubting but that you will receive it, you must apply yourself to adopt those means which are most likely to help you to attain that virtue.
And because all the masters of spiritual life agree in this, that it is most efficacious to make a particular examen every day on the virtue which we wish to acquire, I will expound for your enlightenment a practical examen on Christian humility; and, in order that you make a good use of it, I offer you three words of advice.
The first is that in making your examen once a day, at least, in order to mark those faults which you may have committed against humility, you choosing not more than one or two of the most flagrant ones which you are in the habit of committing, and thus, after having accustomed yourself to amend these, you will pass on little by little to the others, until pride will gradually be eradicated anti humility will spring up in your heart.
This is also the manner in which we ought to meditate. Certain general resolutions, such as to subdue pride and to practice humility, are never of any use; but, on the contrary, they frequently generate confusion and create conflict in the mind: therefore it is necessary to go into particulars of those things in which during the day we have been most sensible of our imperfections, and even then we must not form a general intention not to fall into them again all our life through, but it is enough that we should make a firm resolution not to fall into them again during that one day. It was thus that holy King David made resolutions and renewed them, not trying to keep them from year to year, nor from month to month, hut from day to day: “I will pay my vows from day to day.” [Ps. lx, 9] And in order to keep them one cannot sufficiently urge the necessity of imposing upon oneself some penance and of accomplishing it faithfully. For example, as many times as I have failed to keep my resolutions today, so many times will I kiss the Wound in the side of Christ, and recite devoutly as many Hail Marys, etc.
The second is to take these faults which form the subject of our examen, and to accuse ourselves of them in our confessions, in order to make us still more ashamed of our pride before God, and also because the Sacrament of Penance confers a singular grace of its own in helping us to amend those faults of which we therein accuse ourselves, as St. Thomas teaches. [P. 3. qu. lxxxiv, art. 8 ad 1] And although none of these defects can absolutely be called sins, and are simply imperfections, it does not follow that we must not pay any heed to them, because they either serve to keep us in vice or are an impediment to virtue.
When it is a question of humility, which is the most necessary virtue for our eternal salvation, it is always better and safer to have too much of it than to have too little. And it is certain that he who is content to have only that amount which is absolutely essential to him will never really acquire that virtue. “Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven,” said the Saviour of the world, and we have no other way of becoming as little children than to eliminate our self-love by the vigorous exercise of humility.
The third is that you should often read this practical examen, in order to reflect seriously upon yourself and to see how you stand in regard to humility, so that you may not be of those who think they are humble and are not really so.
St. Thomas says that it is for humility to examine the faults committed against any virtue whatsoever. How much more, therefore, should it examine those faults which are committed against this very humility!
You will find many little points in this examen, but if you find yourself defective in many of them, you must not regard them from the point of view of their size but of their number, and the more you find that they are habitual with you the more they should fill you with fear and apprehension. And in proportion as you find that you are not humble in this point or that, you will be able to infer that you are proud; and if this examen on humility only teaches you to know your own pride it will not be a small gain, because we begin to be humble when we open our eyes and recognize that we are proud.
Many things considered in themselves are only of counsel; but in respect to such and such circumstances they can nevertheless be of obligation, and are necessary also so that we may not transgress the precept, according to the teaching of St. Thomas. [2a 2æ, qu. lxxii, art. 3; et qu. clxxxvi, art. 2] In conclusion, you must not make this examen with scruples or much anxiety, as if every imperfection were a sin and as if you had the presumption to will to be humble all at once, nor must you reject with contempt all that does not seem to you positively of precept.
You must be solicitous in your wish and desire to acquire humility, and you should have diligence and care not to omit those means which would lead you to gain it, and then recommending yourself to God continue to make this examen according to the inspiration of God and the dictates of your own conscience. As humility may be considered under three different aspects, in relation to God, our neighbour and ourselves, and practiced in two ways, that is to say interiorly and exteriorly, it therefore follows that we can sin in these several ways, as we sin against the laws of any other virtue, either by our thoughts, words, deeds or omissions. Let us therefore proceed now to the examen of our faults.