47. Who knows if the one I judge and speak ill of may not be dearer to God than I am? Whether another whom I esteem but little and despise for his physical or moral defects be not destined to be very happy with God for all eternity? Who knows whether I may not be condemned to the pains of Hell for all eternity? With this uncertainty how can I then presume to consider myself better than any other?
No one is worth more than what he is worth in the eyes of God, and how can 1 know whether I am an object of hatred or of love to God? “And yet man knoweth not whether he be worthy of love or hatred.” [Ecclus ix, 1] How do I know if God will fashion a vessel of honor or of dishonor from the clay of which I am made? “For who distinguisheth thee?” [1 Cor. iv, 7] “But what is the use of these vessels? the Potter is the judge.” [Wisd. xv, 7]
When I read of St. Paul, the herald of the Holy Ghost and great doctor of the Gentiles, who said of himself that he lived in fear of falling into sin and becoming a castaway after having converted so many thousands of souls to God: “Lest perhaps when I have preached to others I myself may become a castaway;” [1 Cor. ix, 27] ah, if St. Paul himself, who was rapt unto the third heaven and could say that “Christ lived in him,” “and I live now, not I, but Christ liveth in me,” [Gal. ii, 20] should thus fear, what shall I say of myself, who am so contemptible? At the day of judgment how many shall we see on the right hand of God whom we looked upon as castaways! and how many shall we see on His left whom we believed to be amongst His elect!
It would be well for us, however, when we make comparisons between ourselves and others, to say what Juda said of Thamar, “She is juster than I,” and in some circumstance or other this will always prove to be true. St. Thomas taught that a man may truthfully say and believe that he is worse than others, partly on account of the hidden defects which he knows that he possesses, and partly on account of the gifts of God that are hidden in others. [xxii, qu. 161, art. 6 ad 2]
48. Who can assure me that before long I shall not fall into some mortal sin? And having once fallen, who can assure me that I may not die in sin, and thus be condemned to eternal punishment? As long as I live in this world I cannot be sure of anything. I must hope to save my soul, but I must also fear to lose it. O my soul, I do not in tend to depress thee; no, nor do I wish to fill thee with pusillanimous despair by these thoughts. I only desire thee to be humble. And how much reason hast thou to humble thyself in this uncertainty, not knowing what manner of death shall be thine, nor what shall be thy lot for all eternity? It is only by the measure of thy humility that thou canst hope to please God and save thyself, because it is certain that God will “save the humble people,” [Ps. xvii, 28] “and He will save the humble of spirit.” [Ps. xxxiii, 19]
There are some who think that to meditate on the mystery of predestination is likely to fill us with despair; but it appears to me, as it also did to St. Augustine, that this thought is a most efficacious means of practicing humility, [Lib. de Praedest. et Grat.] because when I meditate upon my eternal salvation I see that it does not depend upon the power of my own free-will, but only upon the Divine mercy. Not trusting to myself, but placing all my hope in God, I must say with the wise Judith: “And therefore let us humble our souls before Him, and continuing in a humble spirit in His service, ask the Lord that He would show His mercy to us.” [Jud. viii, 16, 17]
49. It is a special gift of God to know how to govern the tongue, as the preacher says in his Proverbs: “It is the Lord who governs the tongue”; [Prov. xvi, 1] and when God wishes to confer this gift of His upon anyone, He does so by means of humility. And the Savior teaches us in St. Matthew xii, 34: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Therefore, if the heart is well-regulated by humility, the tongue will be well-regulated also.
He who is humble of heart has but a poor opinion of himself and a good opinion of others; hence it is that he never praises himself or blames others. The humble man speaks but little, and weighs and measures his words so as not to say more than truth and modesty require, and, as his heart is free from vanity, so is his speech. We argue therefore that there can be little or no humility in our hearts when there is little or no circumspection in our speech. “Their heart is vain,” says the prophet, and this is the reason why he also adds: “Their throat is an open sepulcher.” [Ps. v, 10, 11] We speak of those things that fill the heart, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” [Luke vi, 45] and our speech will determine whether truth or vanity predominates in our hearts. It is well to ask God to curb our tongue, but let us also ask Him to give humility to our heart, for this alone will be a most powerful curb.