Those who desire God and thirst for the joys of heaven are careful to pray for and cultivate the virtue of humility, for without it spiritual advancement remains an unattainable goal.
God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you. (James 4:6-10)
To become humble is in reality to die to self. It is to become as a little child in abandonment to God, trusting completely in his goodness, power and divine providence. It is to give ourselves over unconditionally and without qualification to Christ. It is the humble who pray thus: 'Thy will be done in me, O glorious God.'
Originating from the indwelling Spirit within, our being suddenly erupts with a desire for He Who Is our every desire, and we cry out in hope: "Adveniet!" He will come! Yet such a cry of need and love is impossible if we lack humility. In fact, our hope in Christ is itself a sign of humility: for in the absence of this self-emptying virtue in which we gaze into our interior through the light of truth, recognizing ourselves as a needy people entirely dependent on God, we cannot possibly anticipate the arrival of our Savior whose Sacred Heart opens itself in infinite divine and human love to the finite hearts of humanity.
Nevertheless, the humble will readily admit that pride, the archenemy who lay in wait along the road to spiritual perfection, ceaselessly labors to worm its way into the soul and thereby destroy the untold beauty within.
St. Teresa of Avila, the great Doctor of Prayer, often warns of the dangers of pride and the importance of ridding ourselves of a false sense of self-reliance. Jesus himself reminded her of the crucial importance of recognizing Whom we obtain our strength from: "For even though you may be in the light, at the moment I withdraw, the night will come. This is true humility: to know what you can do and what I can do" (The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, ICS Publications, 1987).
Devoid of humility, there can be no spiritual advancement, for in such an ill state the mysterious well of the human heart is filled with pride, leaving no room for the Spirit, the Giver of Life whose delicate and loving tenderness will take no part in forced entry, to transform us into a work of profound and everlasting beauty. Consequently, it is helpful to reflect on the virtue of humility that itself opens the way to God; for the steps leading to Mount Zion, the city of the living God (Hebrews 12:22), are carved from this most necessary virtue.
In the first place, we must understand that humility is a gift from God. That is, while virtues are habitual perfections acquired through practice, true and authentic humility is not something that originates solely from within us; nor is it something we ourselves acquire purely by our own efforts. We would not even exist without God's willing it: all our energy, every good desire is supplied by God. When we finally take proper action, we are simply participating in and making use of whatever gifts God has already given us for our own good or for the good of others. Virtue, then, originates from the grace of God.
Knowing the importance of humility, let us ardently beg God for it. Then, when our Lord gives us an opportunity to exercise the virtue of humility during a moment of embarrassment, or perhaps when it becomes evident that we cannot perform a task according to our personal "high standards" or those of others, we must strive to give up the false image of ourselves we find so precious, appealing, vital and desirable, and accept humility with gratitude. What others think of us is not, ultimately, what matters; nor is what we think of ourselves if it be colored by pride or distorted self-knowledge. What is important, is what we "look like" in the eyes of God: do we love God above all else for his sake? Do I love God more than I love the self-manufactured image of myself that I labor so long and hard to defend?
We must constantly guard against developing a "high opinion" of ourselves. Are we easily offended? Is everyone else to blame? Do we feel we must have all the answers and insist on giving what we think are those answers? Do we forcibly insert our answers into the sentences of others, or ourselves provide answers to questions directed at others? Can I remain silent and let others dominate the conversation, or must I take center stage? Do I view myself as the "holy-pew-sitter who blesses the church with my gracious presence among numerous others of lesser virtue"? Do I find that I often work hard in order to "save face"? Must everything be done my way?
What difference should it make if people see you as weak, frail, less than perfect and prone to mistakes? Is that not what you are? Is that not what we all are? We are ultimately made from nothing and sustained only by the almighty power of God! It is the secular world, the world of profit and efficiency and elevated self-worth and self-importance, the world that often lives as if God does not exist in which high and mighty accomplishments and worldly success mean everything. What ...
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