First Point.—The different kinds of humility. The first is the humility of the heart. It consists in voluntarily embracing the practices of humility in not taking offence at calumnies; in not being angered by humiliations; and in not being offended by injuries. It goes even farther in the most fervent Christians. We have seen the saints desire to be humiliated, to cherish affronts, and to rejoice at being contemned and despised. St. John of the Cross asked of Our Lord but one grace, viz., to suffer and to be despised for His love. Alas! how far you are from these sentiments, you who are so sensitive to an injury, so particular about preferences, and so susceptible when your self-love is wounded! Do not forget that self-love is the principle of almost all the faults which stain the soul in the eyes of God, of all the defects which make piety odious in the eyes of men, and of all the caprices which dishonor a Christian in the eyes of the world. Strive, therefore, to destroy, if not completely, at least to weaken, this terrible enemy, which has such a firm hold on your whole being. To accomplish this end, profit by the countless little occasions where your self-love is hurt to do violence to it; each humiliation generously borne is a blow which shall weaken your enemy and prepare you for a complete victory.
The second kind of humility is the humility of speech. The precepts of the Gospel and the maxims of the world equally recommend this; the sentiment of decent propriety should suffice to engage us to be faithful to it. He who extols himself should feel that he is doing just what degrades him. He seeks admiration, and he finds contempt only. He wishes to make himself important, and he renders himself only ridiculous. It is astonishing the disgust which boasting inspires—it is so universal and so common. How does it happen that the criticisms and railleries which are heard on every side concerning vain men do not correct their vanity? They are, therefore, very blind. Besides openly boasting, there is another manner of praising one's self which is more skilful but no less reprehensible. It consists in not naming one's self, but allowing every one to perceive who is praised. He does not eulogize his good works, but takes care to make them known. It is rarely that this refinement deceives men. Their own pride makes them see clearly the pride of others, and if instead of the esteem they craved for, the vain inspire only mistrust and contempt.
The third kind of humility is humility in actions. Our divine Saviour especially recommends this in the Gospel of today when He says: "When you are invited to a banquet take the last place." This precept finds its application not only at the banquet, but it extends to all the circumstances of life. It condemns the desire of self-exaltation and commanding, which is one of the most common sentiments and one of the most dangerous among men. They wish for the first place in the affections, and hence the love of dress and all the artifices of vanity. Not only do they wish for the affections, but they wish for them to the exclusion of every one else, and hence jealousies and bitter disappointments. They wish to excel all others by their success and triumphs, and hence rivalries among equals and accusations of injustice against superiors. It is to the desire of self-exaltation and of ruling we must attribute almost all the oppositions to authority in the family and almost all the crimes which are committed in society. Accustom your pride to submission, and your self-love to endure humiliations; then you shall destroy the
principle of many faults, and dry up the source of many bitter disappointments.
Second Point.—The object of humility. You should be humble in your own eyes. The first degree of humility is nothing else than the knowledge of yourself, of your frailty, of your inclination to evil, your passions, your vices. This knowledge of your misery which your experience gives and which faith reveals to you, should it not force you to be humble ? How can you be so presumptuous when you are so weak? How can you dare to nourish thoughts of pride when you have so much to blush for? How can you afford to resent some affront when you are so worthy of contempt? How can you love yourself when you are so unlovable ? Does this kind of humility consist in denying that there is something good in you and not seeing the advantages you have above others either in wealth or in mind? Not at all. Humility is not falsehood. The truly humble heart never forgets that its good qualities, its talents, and its virtues are the gifts of God. It knows that all that it is, all the good it has done, comes from God; consequently it cannot assume any vanity Whatever. Does it witness the fall of one of its friends? It thinks that if God had placed it in the same circumstances as this man, without giving it the most abundant graces, it would fall perhaps into the most criminal excesses. The two considerations of the concupiscence which it feels and the grace it experiences; concupiscence leading it to evil, and grace which alone retains it in well-doing; concupiscence which it can with difficulty resist and grace to which it is so difficult to respond—these two considerations retain the heart in humility and hinder it from rising above others less favored and committing greater sins than itself. Thus it is that the humble heart, while not forgetting that it is exalted above others, does not glorify itself, but refers all honor to God, the Source of all good.
You should be humble before God. This duty need only be exposed to be believed. You would strive in vain to form even a remote idea of the infinite distance which separates man from God.
How then can we express what it is not possible for us to conceive? We are but nothingness, while God is the Sovereign Being. We are only weakness; God is Omnipotence! We are only sinners; God is Sanctity itself. It is this last consideration which should especially profoundly humiliate us before Him. Yes, we should be more ashamed of our corruption than of our frailty; of our ingratitude than of our nothingness; everything should humiliate us before God; everything—even the remembrance of what He has done to exalt us. Have we not abused His very gifts? You should be humble in your thoughts with regard to your neighbor. Humility forbids all contempt for others and all pretension to superiority. To see the justice of this rule which humility imposes, consider that your thoughts of pre-eminence come from the superiority which you think you have over others, whether they are in the order of nature or the order of religion. If they are temporal advantages—riches, beauty, birth, talents which raise you above others in your thoughts, how futile they are? How small is the difference that these distinctions make between one man and another. They are like to the bubbles which children make and which ascend in the air; they are dissipated and dissolved in the moment they appear. If you esteem yourself more than others by reason of advantages in the religious order—virtue, good works, and piety—while the motive would, have some solidity, it would not have, in you, more justice. What have you, the Apostle asks, that you have not received ? And if you have received it, how do you dare to glory in it as if it had come from you? Your pride is more than ridiculous; it is unjust, since you rob God of the glory which is due to Him.
O my God, all that I am and all that I have come from Thy grace; do not permit that I abuse Thy gifts to offend Thee, but grant that all that is in me may serve to glorify Thee.
Source: Short Instructions on the Feasts of the Year, Imprimatur 1897