The month of February is dedicated to the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph: let us call upon the Holy Family to help us live family life in a holy and loving manner! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Virtue of Humility. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“Personal Humility and Trust in God - Only the humble can truly trust in God: Lord, be my Rock of safety, the stronghold that saves me… we pray in the Entrance Antiphon of today’s Holy Mass. (Entrance Antiphon, Ps. 30:3) He is our refuge, our bulwark in the midst of all the weakness we find in ourselves and in the decay that is all around us. He is our firm support at all times, at any age and in any situation. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and puts all his confidence in Him, says the prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading. He is like a tree planted by the water’s edge, that sends out its roots to the stream and does not fear when summer’s heat comes, for its foliage remains green; nor has it any anxiety in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jer. 17:7-8) By contrast, cursed is he who puts his trust in man and relies on the strength of his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord. His life will be sterile, like a thistle in a dry place.
Lord, be my Rock of safety: personal humility and trust in God go always hand in hand. Only humility seeks happiness and strength in God. One of the reasons the proud go after praise so avidly, and have an exalted opinion of themselves and resent anything that can bring them down in their own estimation or in the eyes of others, is the lack of inner solidity. They have no point of support, no hope for happiness outside themselves. As a result, they are often ultra-sensitive to the slightest criticism, and insist on getting their own way. They want to be well-known and be given special treatment. They put their trust in themselves just as the drowning man clutches hold of the fragile spar that cannot hold him up. And whatever they might have achieved in life, the proud are always insecure, unsatis-fied, without peace. That kind of man, without humility, unable to trust in his Father God Who constantly stretches out His arms to him, shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land, as the liturgy of today’s Holy Mass tells us. The proud man will have nothing to show for his life; he is unsatisfied, knowing nothing of real peace and happiness.
The Christian has his Hope in God. He knows and accepts his own weakness and so does not depend inordinately on his own resources. He knows that in any undertaking he must use all the human means open to him, but that above all he must rely on prayer. He knows and accepts joyfully that everything he has he receives from God. Humility is not a matter of despising ourselves, because God does not despise us, since we are the work of His hands. It consists in forgetting ourselves and sincerely thinking about others. Interior simplicity leads us to be aware that we are children of God. (cf. E. Boylan, This Tremendous Lover) At the very moment when everything seems to be collapsing before our eyes, we realize that quite the opposite is the case, ‘for You, Lord, are my strength’ (Ps. 42:2). If God is dwelling in our soul, everything else, no matter how important it may seem, is accidental and transitory, whereas we, in God, stand permanent and firm. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 92) In the midst of our frailty, in whatever form our weakness presents itself, we take our stand together with God in an indestructible firmness.
The great obstacle is pride. Signs of pride: The greatest obstacles to the soul’s trying to follow Christ and to help others have their origin in a disordered love of self. At times this leads us to overestimate our strength. At other times it brings discouragement and despondency as a result of our own weaknesses and our errors. Pride often reveals itself in an interior monologue, in which we exaggerate the importance of our own interests and get them out of proportion. We end up praising ourselves. In any conversation pride leads us to talk about ourselves and our affairs, and to want people to have a good opinion of us at any price. Some people stick to their own opinion, whether it be right or wrong. They seize any chance to point out another’s mistakes, and make it hard to maintain a friendly atmosphere. The most reprehensible way of emphasizing our own worth is by doing down someone else. The proud do not like to hear praise for another person and are always ready to reveal the defects of any-one who stand out from the crowd. A characteristic note of pride is an impatient dislike of being contradicted or corrected. (cf. E. Boy-lan, loc. cit.)
The man who is filled with pride doesn’t seem to have much need of God in his work and undertakings, or even in his ascetical struggle to be better. He exaggerates his personal qualities, closes his eyes to his defects, and ends up thinking that what is a lack of good spirit is really an admirable quality. He is convinced, for example, that he has a generous and bold spirit because he neglects as insignificant the small duties of each day. He forgets that to be faithful in the big things, we have to be faithful in the small ones. So he believes himself to be better than others, and dismisses the good qualities of people who are more virtuous than himself. (cf. R. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life, vol. 1, p. 442)
St. Bernard sets out the various progressive indications in the growth of pride (St. Bernard, On the Degrees of Humility, 10): first, curiosity - wanting to know everything about everybody; then superficiality because of a lack of depth in prayer and in deeds; again, a shrill, misplaced cheerfulness which thrives on the defects of others and lapses into ridicule; there follows boasting, the desire to be in the foreground, to be conspicuous, to stand out; arrogance; presumption; refusing to admit our own faults, even when they are obvious; and, a short step thereafter, a covering up of our faults in Confession…
The proud man has little interest in knowing the truth about himself. In our prayer today let us ask ourselves if we value humility sufficiently, and ask God for it over and over again. We can examine ourselves as to whether we constantly ask God Our Father to help us, in big things as in little. O God, we say with the Psalmist, Thou art my God, I seek Thee; my soul thirsts for Thee; my flesh faints for Thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is. (Ps. 63:2) We could usefully repeat this prayer throughout the day.
Practicing the virtue of humility: Forgetting about ourselves is an essential condition for holiness. It enables us to see God as our absolute Good, and to think about others. Together with prayer, which is the first means we must always use, we must also practice the Virtue of Humility, in our work, in family life, when we are alone… always. We must make an effort not to be preoccupied with our own concerns: our health, our rest, whether people think well of us and take us sufficiently into account. We should try to speak as little as possible about ourselves and our affairs, of what-ever can possibly put us in a good light. We should avoid curiosity, the desire to know everything and to let everyone know that we know it. Patiently, with good humor, we will accept difficulties and offer them up joyfully as sacrifices to God. We shall not insist on our own point of view unless the Truth or Justice demand it, and even then we shall be moderate while remaining firm. We shall overlook the mistake of others; we shall find excuses for them and in all Charity assist them to overcome their failings. We will accept corrections even if these seem unfair, and give way on appropriate occasions to other people’s opinions when Charity or duty is not at stake. We will avoid making a display of our good qualities, of our material possessions, of our knowledge. It will matter nothing if we are despised, overlooked or not consulted in a field in which we think we have particular competence or have greater knowledge or experience. We will not crave to be held in high esteem or to be admired, and will rectify our intentions when we are praised. We certainly should seek greater professional prestige, but for God’s glory, not out of pride or the desire to be outstanding.
We shall grow in this virtue especially when we are humiliated and accept the humiliation joyfully for Christ (cf. J. Escriva, The Way, 594), cheerfully put up with being despised, patiently bear with our own defects and make the effort to glory in our weaknesses in front of the Tabernacle. We shall go there to ask Our Lord to give us His Grace and not abandon us.
We will tell Him once again there is nothing good in us that does not come from Him. Our personal failings are the only obstacles that prevent the Holy Spirit from filling us with His gifts. In an intimate conversation with Jesus and Mary we shall learn to be humble. Frequent meditation on the Passion will lead us to contemplate the figure of Christ, humiliated and abused for our sake. Our love will be set ablaze and give rise to a sincere desire to imitate Him.
The example of our Mother Mary, A ncilla Domini, the Handmaid of the Lord, will move us to practice the Virtue of Humility. As we finish our prayer, we turn to her, since she is Mother of both Mercy and Tenderness, and no one has ever gone to her in vain. Cast yourself with confidence into her maternal embrace; ask her to obtain for you this virtue she esteemed so highly. Don’t have any fears about not being listened to. Mary will put forward your request to that God Who lifts up the humble and casts down the proud, and since Mary is omnipotent in her requests to her Son, she will certainly be heard. (J. Pecci, (Pope Leo XIII), The Practice of Humility, 85-86)” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy, St. Joseph, St. Michael, and St. Paul, may our good Lord grant us the grace to live and practice the Virtue of Humility!
In Christ through Mary,