Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”‘
–The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publishers, 1984), 2.
One of the virtues which is needed by all of us is humility. As saint after saint after saint has demonstrated, as long as we are upset when we are insulted by someone else, we have not mastered the virtue.
Once it was asked, what must I be like to be humble? The one who asked this question was told to go to a corpse, and insult it. After he did so, he was asked, “What did the corpse do, when it was insulted?” “Nothing.” “And if you want perfect humility, die to the self, and become like the corpse, and you will have it.”
This is not easy. The further along the spiritual path we go, the more we find ourselves in danger of pride. We want someone to notice what we have done, we want to feel appreciated. Certainly, there is good reason for this. We are made for communion, and such demonstrations of appreciation are a way in which we feel connected with someone else. But when we demand it, when we think it is our right, we have already demonstrated why we do not deserve it.
True spiritual growth is shown by how we love. It is not shown by what we know, how much we have studied, how many texts we have written, how many good works we think we have done; while all of these can be used in the service of love, when they are used to promote the self, they really are not what they appear, but vain imitations of what they should be. Without love, they are mere copies of the real. Without love, such goods become Satanic; having a form of glory, they hide the festering darkness of hate within. Such hate, if not overcome, leads only to an unholy end, one where their self-glory is all they will have. They will find they have gained what they wanted, the own glorious self, but as they see it for all it is worth, as they marvel in their own light, they will find it is not all that they had thought, but in reality, they will find in themselves all it is that they have ever hated.