Holy Week is the School of Humility

In his classic, Humility of Heart, Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo wrote:  “In Paradise there are many saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting, or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no saint who was not humble.”

Humility begins with an acknowledgement of this solemn and absolute truth: There is a God and I am not him! From this springs gratitude (only a humble person can truly be grateful); compassion (the humble acknowledge their own need for grace and through that recognition empathize with the needs of others); and obedience (“Not my will, but thine, be done”).

It has been said that God revealed his power to the pagan world through nature. To the Jews he revealed his justice through the Law and the Prophets. But God reveals his humility in Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philipians 2:6-8) Humility is the foundation of the Christian spiritual life because we are called to imitate Jesus, who is “gentle and humble of heart.” 

My own words fail. Pride is my cross – God help me! – along with all the deformations of character that flow from it. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever progress beyond the very first lessons in the School of Humility. And so, rather than continue writing about a virtue with which I am only barely acquainted, I’ll turn this essay over to those who know far better the role of humility in pleasing God:

Also from Humility of Heart:

God banished Angels from Heaven for their pride; therefore how can we pretend to enter therein, if we do not keep ourselves in a state of humility? Without humility, says St. Peter Damian, not even the Virgin Mary herself with her incomparable virginity could have entered into the glory of Christ, and we ought to be convinced of this truth that, though destitute of some of the other virtues, we may yet be saved, but never without humility.

From Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade:

Humility should be sweet and tranquil, without self-contempt, or annoyance with ourselves or others, without despondency or voluntary vexation … Far from losing, we gain all in abandoning ourselves entirely to God by love and confidence. The sight of yourself: that confused heap of weaknesses, miseries, corruption, should never distress you. It is on this account that I say boldly, all is well, for I have never known anyone endowed with this keen insight, so humiliating, to whom it was not a most special grace of God; nor who has not found in it, combined with a true self-knowledge, that solid humility which is the foundation of all perfection. I have known, and do know many saintly people who, for their sole possession have that profound conviction of their weakness, and are never so happy as when they feel themselves, as it were, engulfed in it. They then dwell in truth, and consequently in God who is the sovereign truth. If you but knew how to walk before Him, your head bowed in this spirit of self-effacement, you would find in it all that makes the spiritual life. It only remains to know how to preserve this spirit of peace and abandonment.

From Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux:

I tried my best to do good on a small scale, having no opportunity to do it on a large scale. As it was, all I could do was to take such opportunities of denying myself as came to me without the asking; that meant mortifying self-love, a much more valuable discipline than any kind of bodily discomfort … I’ve always wished that I could be a saint. But whenever I compared myself to the Saints there was always this unfortunate difference – they were like great mountains, hiding their heads in the clouds, and I was only an insignificant grain of sand, trodden down by all who passed by. However, I wasn’t going to be discouraged; I said to myself: “God wouldn’t inspire us with ambitions that can’t be realized. Obviously there’s nothing great to be made of me, so it must be possible for me to aspire to sanctity in spite of my insignificance. I’ve got to take myself just as I am, with all my imperfections; but somehow I shall have to find out a little way, all of my own, which will be a direct short-cut to heaven. Can’t I find an elevator which will take me up to Jesus, since I’m not big enough to climb the steep stairway of perfection?” So I looked in the Bible for some hint about the life I wanted, and I came across the passage where Eternal Wisdom says: “Whosoever is a little one let him come to Me.” To that Wisdom I went; it seemed as if I was on the right track; what did God undertake to do for the child-like soul that responded to His invitation? I read on, and this is what I found: I will console you like a mother caressing her son; you shall be like children carried at the breast, fondled on a mother’s lap. I could after all, be lifted up to heaven, in the arms of Jesus! And if that was to happen, there was no need for me to grow bigger, on the contrary, I must be as small as ever, smaller than ever.

Finally, Blessed Mother Teresa fixes humility at the apex of the pantheon of virtues, because it is only through humility that we can truly love; and as St. John of the Cross wrote, “in the evening of life we will be judged by love alone”:

Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.

“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you because by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

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  • The Pachyderminator

    Beautiful quotes, Mark. Thanks for sharing them.

  • Ronald King

    Thank you, Mark.

  • Julia Smucker

    This rings true. I would further add that the humility revealed in Christ is also a revelation of what true power is.

    • markdefrancisis

      “…the humility revealed in Christ is also a revelation of what true power is.”

      Exactly!

      • Per Signum

        Do not let me hear
        Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
        Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of
        Possession,
        Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
        The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
        Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
        T. S Eliot, The Four Quartets, [East Coker]

        • Mark Gordon

          A commenter after my own heart. That’s my favorite quote on humility, Per Signum. Thanks for adding it to my post!!

      • Mark Gordon

        Agreed. Beautifully put, Julia!

  • http://the-american-catholic.com/ John Henry

    Thanks for putting together the post and the quotes Mark. Exactly what I needed to read today (and this week).

    • Mark Gordon

      A blessed Easter to you and your colleagues at TAC, John Henry.