THE first act of humility, says St. Thomas, [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 2 ad 3 ; et qu. clxii, art. 5] consists in rendering ourselves entirely subject to God with the greatest reverence for His infinite Majesty, before which we are as nothing: “All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all.” [Isai. vl, 17] But do you ever consider your nothingness before God?—–and that all the being you have, you have from God?—–and that through intrinsic necessity you depend so entirely upon God that without Him you cannot do anything good—–“for without Me you can do nothing” [John xv, 5] —–that without God you neither think nor say nor do anything that is good?
This is of faith. “No man can say the Lord Jesus but by the Holy Ghost.” [1 Cor. xii, 3] “Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God.” [2 Cor. iii, 5] “For it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish according to His good will.” [Phil. ii, 13] It is not enough only to say I know all these things, but it is necessary to realize them to become really humble.
The Angelic Doctor teaches that the reason why humility tends principally to render the soul subject to God is because this virtue is nearest to the theological virtues, and as it does not suffice only to know what things we must believe or hope, but it is also necessary for us to make acts of faith and hope, so in the same way we must make like acts of humility.
Christ Himself taught humility of heart, and the heart must not remain idle, nor fail to produce the necessary acts—–and what acts of humility do you make before God? How often do you make them? When have you made them? How long is it since you made them?
It would be absurd to hope for the reward which is promised to the humble without being humble, or at least without the desire to be humble; and without making acts of humility; humility of heart without the heart humbling itself—–what folly! And are you foolish enough to believe that this can be done?
Sometimes you give utterance to certain words which seem to tend to your own humiliation; you say you are a contemptible wretch, and good for nothing, but do you say such things sincerely from your heart? If you are afraid of lying to yourself by confirming them in your own mind, listen to what St. Thomas [Loc. cit. art. 6 ad 1] tells us for our instruction, that everyone can truthfully say and believe of himself that he is a contemptible wretch, referring all his ability and talent to God.
103. But how are we to make these practical acts of humility before God? I will give you some examples. You can imagine yourself in the presence of God now as a convicted felon who humbles himself and implores mercy for the forgiveness of his sins: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy”; [Ps. l, 1] now as a miserable needy beggar who humbles himself and asks alms to help him in his necessity: “Give us this day our daily bread”; now as the sick man near the Pool of Bethsaida, who humbled himself before the Saviour to be healed of his incurable disease: “Sir, I have no man . . .”; [John v, 7] now as that blind man who humbled himself that his darkness might be illuminated: “Lord, that I may see”; now as the Canaanite woman who humbled herself and exclaimed: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, help me,” [Matt. xv, 22, 25] and who was not ashamed to liken herself to the dogs who are unworthy to eat their master’s bread, but are content to eat the crumbs that fall from his table. Humility of heart is ingenuous, and in the same manner as our heart loves without needing to be taught to love, it humbles itself without needing to be taught humility.
104. There are certain cases in which we are obliged to make acts of virtue—–such as faith, hope and charity—–which some necessity, circumstance, or duty of our state of life may exact, and there are certain cases in which we must make acts of humility in our hearts.
First of all it is necessary to humble ourselves when we approach God with prayer to obtain some grace, because God does not regard, nor heed, nor impart His grace except to the humble. “The Lord looketh on the low,” [Ps. cxxxvii, 6] “The prayer of the humble hath always pleased Thee,” [Judith ix, 16] “God giveth grace to the humble.” [James iv, 6] When therefore you come to ask God for some grace of the body or of the soul, do you always remember to practice this humility?
When we pray, and especially when we say the “Our Father,” we are speaking to God; and how many times, when you are saying your prayers, do you speak to God with less respect than if you were speaking to one of your fellow creatures? How often when you are in church, which is the house of God, do you listen to a sermon, which is the Word of God, and assist at the functions of the service without any reverence?
Humility of heart, says St. Thomas, [2a 2æ, qu. clxi, art. 2] is accompanied by exterior reverence, and to be lacking in this is to lack humility, and is therefore a sin of pride, “which excludes reverence.”