Humility Of Heart Part 28

105. But the more essential the grace we are asking of God is for us, the more necessary is humility. Before going however to the tribunal of penance do you humble yourself, and ask God to give you that sorrow for your sins which is necessary for the validity of the Sacrament? As this sorrow must be supernatural, it is certain that you could never attain to it of yourself, however much you were to try and force yourself to feel it. God alone can give it to you, and it is equally certain that this is not a debt which He owes you, but a great grace which it pleases Him to confer upon you out of His goodness alone and without any merit on your part. If, however, you desire to receive this grace, you must ask it with humility, protesting from your heart that you do not deserve it, that you are unworthy to receive it, and that you only hope for it through the merits of Jesus Christ. But do you practice this humility, which is, one may say, of precept for you, because it is an essential means of obtaining contrition?

106. The same can be said of your resolutions, which are equally necessary to render the confession valid. These resolutions must be constant and efficacious, but cannot be so without the special help of God. Do you ever think of humbling yourself and asking for that help, knowing and confessing your instability and weakness, and that you are not capable of yourself to keep the smallest resolution, either from morning till night or even from one hour to another?

It is for this reason that you so often fall over and over again into the same faults, because you are lacking in humility. The truly humble man is altogether diffident about himself, and putting all his trust in God, is helped in the most admirable way by Him. “Humble thyself to God and wait for His hands.” [Ecclus xiii, 9]

How many times do you not say: “I have taken this firm resolution, and I mean to keep it, I am not afraid of breaking it,” trusting iniquitously in yourself, without acknowledging the Divine help in any way? Take care that you may not be counted among those reprobates ” who were destroyed trusting to their own strength.” [Ecclus xvi, 8] If you even presume only a little upon yourself, that little can be the cause of great ruin, according to the prediction of Job: “They are lifted up for a little while, and shall not stand, and shall be brought down.” [Job xxiv, 24]

107. And how do you practice humility in your sacramental confession? It is in your confession that you should humble yourself like a guilty malefactor in the presence of your Judge. “Humble thy soul to the ancient.” [Ecclus iv, 7] This advice comes from the Holy Ghost.

How often do you not try to appear innocent in the very act of accusing yourself of guilt—–now by excusing your sins, now by covering or diminishing their malice, now by putting the blame on others instead of taking it yourself? This is a real lack of humility, and of that humility which is not of counsel but of precept. You should say with David: “I said I will confess against myself my iniquity unto the Lord.” [Ps. xxxi, 5] The shame which prevents you from confessing your sin clearly and plainly, comes from pride alone.

108. There are some people who, under the pretext of making acts of humility, desire from time to time to accuse themselves in their confession of some grave and shameful sin of their past life. If peradventure you are among these, beware lest this arise more from a desire to appear humble than to be humble in reality. Self-love is cunning, and knows how to work secretly.

This fault was discovered by St. Bernard: “The more subtly vain confession is, the more dangerously hurtful it is, as when, for instance, we are not ashamed to reveal our shameful deeds, not because we are humble but that we may seem to be so. What more perverse or shameful than that confession, the guardian of humility, should take service under the banner of pride?” [Serm. vi in Cant.]

This kind of humility is not always desirable even outside the confessional, because it can easily lead us to create scandal by speaking of certain sins which should not even be named. If you have this strange fault, there is no reason why you should pride yourself on it, but you should rather be ashamed of it; for, as the holy abbot says: “What species of pride can this be, that thou wouldst fain be better by what thou appearest to be worse? That thou canst not be thought holy without seeming to be wicked?”

Humility Of Heart Part 27

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.”

Humility Of Heart Part 26

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.

Humility Of Heart Part 25

100. After Jesus Christ, Who is King of the humble, what a beautiful example of humility we have in the Blessed Virgin Mary who is their Queen! No creature ever surpassed her in merit, or exceeded her in humility. By her humility she deserved to be the Mother of God, and by humility only she maintained the dignity and honour of the sublime Maternity.

Let us picture Mary in her room at Nazareth when it was announced to her by the Archangel Gabriel that the time had come for the Eternal Word to take flesh in her womb, through the operation of the Holy Ghost. She showed no sign of pride at being blest among women and chosen for such a high honour, but on the contrary she was distressed and “was troubled at his saying,” [Luke i, 29] without being able to understand why she was chosen for so great an honour. And what does she exclaim? I,—–the Mother of God! I, a vile creature, to become the Mother of God! I am but His servant, and it would be too much honour for me even to be His handmaid. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” [Luke i, 38] Thus Mary humbled herself as much as lay in her power; and she continued in this deep humility all through her life, behaving in all things as the servant of the Lord, without ever attributing to herself the slightest glory for being His Mother. What a beautiful example for us! Therefore if we have devotion to our Lady we ought to try and imitate her in her humility; and in all the prayers, Communions and mortifications that we offer in her honour let us always ask her to obtain for us through her intercession the grace of holy humility. There is no grace that our Blessed Lady asks so willingly of Jesus for her devotees, and which Jesus concedes so willingly to Mary as the grace of humility, since both Jesus and Mary hold this virtue in singular affection.

Let us recommend ourselves to her protection and place all our confidence in her, entreating her for the love she herself bears to humility to grant that we may also become truly humble of heart; and let us not doubt but that our earnest prayers will be heard and our desires granted.

O my soul, it is through humility that we shall reach Paradise. And what shall we do in paradise? There the practice of all other virtues ceases and only charity and humility remain. We shall see God, and in seeing Him we shall know that He is the infinite Good; and this perfect knowledge will bring with it more perfect love, and the more we love God, the better we shall know Him, and the better we know Him, the more humble we shall be, practicing humility through all eternity like the ancients seen in the Apocalypse by the Apostle St. John: “Who fell on their faces and adored God, saying, We give Thee thanks, O Lord God almighty, who art, and who wast, and who art to come.” [Apoc. xi, 17] Let us begin to practice on earth those virtues which we hope to practice for ever and ever through all ages in Heaven: “Our Lord Jesus Christ humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. For which cause God also hath exalted Him, and hath given Him a name which is above all names.” [Phil. ii, 8, 9] “Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man, rescue me from the unjust man.” [Ps. cxxxix, 2] Who is this wicked and unjust man from whom I pray to be delivered? He is my inner self who is all vice, corruption and pride, ahd it is the same as if I were to say: “Deliver me, O Lord, from myself, that is, give me grace to amend and reform myself in order that I may no longer be that earthly, worldly and proud creature which I have been hitherto, dominated by passion, but that I may be renewed, and may conform to the spirit of my humble Lord and Master Jesus Christ.” “Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man; rescue me from the unjust man.”

Prayer

O GOD, Who resistest the proud and givest Thy grace to the humble, grant us the grace of true humility, of which Thine Only begotten Son showed forth in Himself an example to the faithful, that we may never, puffed up by pride, incur Thine anger, but that, submissive to Thy will, we may receive the gifts of Thy grace.

Humility Of Heart Part 24

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].