Finally – we are at one of the most important virtues to obtaining the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Humility! Pride is something we are all stricken with and in today’s world – it is exalted! Humility seems to be frowned upon as weakness or timidity – when in reality it is strength and boldness which comes from God and God alone to achieve His Holy Will! We just need to look to our Master Who is meek and humble of Heart. Look to the saints and to Our Dear Blessed Mother – all filled with true humility and achieved God's Will in their lives. What is humility and how do we obtain it? St. Teresa of Avila simply puts it – Humility is Truth. What is Truth? Truth is – God is the Creator and we are His creatures – plain and simple. It strips us of all that we think is ours and gives it to God – the Creator. All things are possible through Him and Him alone. We are just the pencil in His hand. Can a pencil write a novel on its own? Can a paint brush paint a masterpiece on its own? Can a surgical tool succeed in a successful surgery on its own? No – it needs an operator. We are just the tools with which God uses to achieve His Divine Will. Once we realize that we cannot make our own hearts beat – we will gain humility. God is everything and we are nothing – easy lesson right? Not quite – we have many obstacles and this chapter talks about them. Let us begin –
Father Marie-Eugene begins with the first Mansions and how St. Teresa emphasizes the need for self-knowledge in order to advance in the spiritual life. He points out that only by being transformed in humility can knowledge of self be affective. He points out that St Teresa emphasized that there is no poison in the world which is so fatal to perfection like vainglory and pride. This is the main reason for lack of spiritual progress and I would like to add that it is also the reason many are not filled with happiness. It is a great freedom to give all to God and keep nothing for ourselves. He can then do with us as He wills and we will be at peace. St. Teresa says in the Fourth Mansions that it is by humility that the Lord allows Himself to be conquered so that He will do all we ask of Him. (IV Mansions, ii, p. 239) This means that He can trust that whatever He does through us – we will give Him the glory because we know that He is the giver of all that we ask.
A. Necessity of Humility
Father Marie Eugene gives examples from the Gospels of the Samaritan woman and Nicodemus and how through humiliations – they came to the knowledge that God wanted to reveal to them. The gaping wounds of humiliations opens the way to receive the healing light. He also recounts the experience of Saul as he becomes Paul. It was by the door of humiliation that Paul the great apostle entered into Christianity and into the light of the marvelous mystery of which he was to be the preacher and minister. God gives His treasures to the humble, but hides them from the proud and self-sufficient.
Jesus Christ continues His action in the Church according to the same law. All the masters of the spiritual life assert this, and most specially those who have experienced the overflowing abundance of His grace. St. Teresa says: “I do not remember that He has ever granted me any of the outstanding favors of which I shall speak later save when I have been consumed with shame by realizing my own wickedness.” (Life, ch. 22, p. 141)
“To know the all-ness of God and the nothingness of man”, proclaims St Angela of Foligno, “that is perfection”.
St John of the Cross affirms in all of his teaching that the ‘nothing’, a complete realization of poverty, equates with obtaining the ‘all’ which is God.
A little Carmelite from the Middle East named Sr. Marie of Jesus Crucified stated: “Without humility, we are blind, in darkness; while with humility, the soul walks in the night as in the day. The proud man is like a grain of wheat thrown into water; it swells up, it gets big. Expose this grain to the sun; it dries out, it is burnt up. The humble man is like a grain buried in the earth: it goes down, it is hidden, it disappears, it dies, but in order to live again.
Imitate the bees, she says – gather everywhere the essence of humility. Honey is sweet; humility has the taste of God; it makes one taste God.” (The Life of Sr. Marie of Jesus Crucified by R. P. Buzy)
B. Degrees and Forms of Humility
St. Benedict wrote of twelve degrees of humility which corresponded to his twelve degrees of the spiritual life but Fr. Marie Eugene does not list them. He felt a need to mention this to show its seriousness and then he continues on with the writings of St. Teresa. He states that St. Teresa gives us an enlightening definition: “I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden – without, I believe, my having previously thought of it – the following reason came into my mind; that it is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in Truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who best understands this is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth.” (VI Mansions, Peers, II, page 323)
1. Reasonable Humility
Clear and reasonable humility is illumined by the light of reason and is grounded in a work of self-examination and of meditation on supernatural truths and examples from the life of our Lord.
2. Fervent Humility Opposed to Forms of Pride
Fervent humility shows the soul its place in the perspective of the Infinite or in comparison with Christ. “I am He Who is,” God said to Moses. And to St Catherine of Siena, our Lord also said, “Do you know, my daughter, who you are and who I am? You are she who is not and I am He who is.”
In all cases of fervent humility, the soul is more or less consciously aware of the Being of God who, with His Majesty and power, confronts the soul in darkness, discovering to it what it really is.
Fervent humility, a fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit, is the one that attracts His new outpourings of love. It is the virtue that brings the soul into the Fourth Mansions, and makes it progress towards the summits of the spiritual life.
3. Pride in External Goods
The external goods in which one takes pride is the most foolish of prides but the least dangerous because it is exterior. It is ordinarily the first to give way before the light of humility.
In the Life of St. Teresa, she states, “A day will come when the soul will enjoy a quiet laugh when it sees “men of prayer making a fuss about the niceties concerning their honor; for it will know very well that if they subordinated the authority due to their positions to the love of God they would do more good in a day than they are likely to do as it is in ten years.” (Life, Ch 21, pg. 134)
4. Pride of Will
The pride that resides in the will is fed by the goods that the will finds in itself: its independence, its power to command, and its strength of which it has become aware. It refuses submission to God, or makes this difficult. It believes in the power and efficacy of its own efforts, even in the domain of the supernatural, it does not understand the words of Jesus: “without Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) nor that of St. Paul: “It is God who of His good pleasure works in you both the will and the performance.” (Phil, 2:13) Thus pride of will is opposed to the reign of God and to the dominion of His grace.
5. Pride of Intellect
Pride of will ordinarily springs from pride of intellect. The Non serviam of the rebel angels proceeded from a proud complacence in their own light. Fascinated by their personal splendor, those spirits would not turn their gaze to the eternal light of God.
Pride of intellect finds a remedy, however, in contact with revealed truth and its mysteries, and in meeting with wise men and great minds. Acts of faith and the study of revealed truth provide some purification for it. But it will be thoroughly purified in its depths only when light itself breaks in upon it, painful at first and dim, until it produces the semi-brightness of dawn.
The highest knowledge that we can have of God is to understand that He is above all our knowledge and intelligence. Respectful and loving before the divine Reality, it no longer dares to set up as an idol the brilliance of reason; it rejoices in knowing nothing, in being capable of nothing, in understanding nothing, in order that trusting in a faith that is now pure and strong, it may penetrate farther into the trans-luminous darkness of the mysteries that are proposed to it.
6. Spiritual Pride
A man of spiritual pride boasts not only of his works as if they were uniquely his, but also of his spiritual privileges. Spiritual gifts too can serve as pasture ground for pride. The graces of prayer enrich the contemplative, leave their profound mark in the soul, give a precious experience, strengthen the will, refine the intellect, increase the power of action, secure to the spiritual person a powerful radiation. These graces are always received with humility and gratitude, a disposition which they in turn deepen. Then temptation can come – subtle and unawares. The soul then uses these spiritual riches to exalt self and to attract notice, to serve a need for affection or for domination, or simply to make its personal ideas triumph.
Father Marie Eugene uses the example of Martin Luther and others who came before and after him. He says that they have used the privileges of their intimacy with the Master, if not to betray Him like Judas with a kiss but feed their pride and make their own personality triumph.
The Pharisee who proudly displays his good works, goes away with empty hands. The same Pharisee, who boasts of the privilege that made him a son of Abraham, is totally blind in the light of the Word. The prophet who took pleasure in his charism goes into eternal fire.
May we learn these lessons and imitate the saints who have turned to Jesus and said like St. John of the Cross, “No other thing, Lord, than to suffer and be despised”. This sounds over the top and harsh but it is only just – we cannot be treated differently than our Master was when He walked the earth!
Spiritual pride has put a stop to the progress of many and has been the cause of a loss of fervor. May we pray to Our Lady to protect us from these dangers.
C. Means for Acquiring Humility
St. Teresa has stressed that the soul must establish the foundations of humility on a knowledge of self. The examination of conscience furnishes data for that knowledge. This is not acquired by a direct introspection, but by a consideration of the perfection of God. We are to ask for the protection from Our Lady from the false humilities kept alive by the devil which prolong useless reflection on self, produce constraint in action, and finally give way to discouragement.
Fervent humility is the fruit of the light of God on the soul. It would be vain to hope to acquire it by one’s own efforts alone. We must depend on God’s grace and the help of the saints and Our Lady. Prayer is the means recommended by our Lord for the obtaining of divine favors. Humility is the foundation and condition of all spiritual progress and therefore should be sought daily in prayer.
Humiliations bring before us our defects. To accept them is a duty; to thank God for them indicates that one has understood their value; to ask for them with St. John of the Cross is to have already advanced far into the depths of Divine Wisdom. “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart,” Jesus proclaims. Humility and meekness are His characteristic virtues, the personal perfume of His soul, which He leaves wherever He goes and which mark the places where He reigns.
May Our Queen and Mother guide us closer to Her Son and pray for us to always be hungry for humiliations in order to obtain the humility that pleases God and allows Him to use us as His instruments. All for the Glory of God – all for the salvation of souls!
Blessed Fr. Marie-Eugene