"Because he hath regarded the humility of
his handmaid: for behold from henceforth all generations shall
call me blessed" (Luke 1:48).
St. Augustine tell us that "Humility is the
foundation of all the virtues; therefore, in a soul where it does
not exist there can be no true virtue, but the mere appearance
only. In like manner, it is the most proper disposition for all
celestial gifts. And, finally, it is so necessary to perfection,
that of all the ways to reach it, the first is humility; the second,
humility; the third, humility. And if the question were repeated
a hundred times, I should always give the same answer."
St. Vincent de Paul perceived that all his advancement
and almost all the graces he had received were due to this virtue;
and for this reason he inculcated it so much and so greatly desired
to introduce it into his congregation. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, who
knew this truth well, took no greater pains in acquiring any other
"Humility is the mother of many virtues.
From it spring obedience, holy fear, reverence, patience, modesty,
mildness, and peace; for, whoever is humble easily obeys all,
fears to offend any, maintains peace with all, shows himself affable
to all, is submissive to all, does not offend or displease any,
and does not feel the insults which may be inflicted upon him.
He lives happy and contented, and in great peace" (St. Thomas
Here we see the reason why St. Francis, St. Dominic,
St. Vincent de Paul and so many others became remarkable for all
the virtues above mentioned. It is because they were remarkable
St. Jane Frances de Chantal had conceived so
much affection for this virtue, that she watched over herself
with the greatest attention, in order that she might not allow
even the smallest occasion of practicing it to escape. And she
once said to St. Francis de Sales, "My dearest Father, I beg
you, for the love of God, help me to humble myself!"
St. Teresa of Avila warns us that "Whoever
is not very humble, can never draw profit from contemplation,
in which any little amount of insufficient humility, though it
may seem nothing, works the greatest harm."
One day, the Blessed Virgin prayed to her most
holy Son that He would bestow some spiritual gifts upon St. Bridget.
But He gave her this reply: "Whoever seeks lofty things ought
first to be exercised in the lowly, by the paths of humility."
Because the blessed Clara of Montefalco experienced a vain pleasure
in some things she had done, the Lord withdrew from her, for fifteen
years, His lights and celestial consolations, which she could
not regain during all that time, though she begged for them earnestly,
with tears, prayers, and the use of the discipline.
"Humility is necessary not only for the acquisition
of virtues, but even for salvation. For the gate of Heaven, as
Christ Himself testifies, is so narrow that it admits only little
ones" (St. Bernard).
The Pharisee was separated by his condition in
life from the rest of the people, as this sect formed a kind of
religious order, in which they prayed, fasted, and performed many
other good works; but he was, notwithstanding, reproved by God.
Why, then, was this? For no other reason than that he was wanting
in humility; for he felt much satisfaction in his good works,
and gloried in them as if they were the result of his own virtue.
Like all good works, the conversion and salvation
of souls are really the work of the Holy Ghost. He employs means
and instruments. Happy are we if He employ us, if He associate
us in this way with Himself. Do you desire to persuade Him to
use you? Do you long to attract Him? Well, there is no surer way
than by the practice of humility. You must be humble towards God,
towards His visible representatives (for thus you prove your humility
towards God), towards your fellow workers, and towards the people
whom you must serve lovingly, humbly, patiently, as though you
were dealing with Christ.
In Paradise there are many Saints who never gave
alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints
who never mortified their bodies by fasting, or wearing hair shirts:
their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too
who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise
there is no Saint who was not humble.
God banished Angels from Heaven for their pride;
therefore how can we pretend to enter therein, if we do not keep
ourselves in a state of humility? Without humility, says St. Peter
Damian (Serm. 45), not even the Virgin Mary herself with her incomparable
virginity could have entered into the glory of Christ, and we
ought to be convinced of this truth that, though destitute of
some of the other virtues, we may yet be saved, but never without
Jesus Christ calls us all into His school to
learn, not to work miracles nor to astonish the world by marvelous
enterprises, but to be humble of heart. "Learn of Me, because
I am meek and humble of heart." (Matt. 11:29) He has not
called everyone to be doctors, preachers or priests, nor has He
bestowed on all the gift of restoring sight to the blind, healing
the sick, raising the dead or casting out devils, but to all He
has said: "Learn of Me to be humble of heart," and to
all He has given the power to learn humility of Him. Innumerable
things are worthy of imitation in the Incarnate Son of God, but
He only asks us to imitate His humility. What then? Must we suppose
that all the treasures of Divine Wisdom which were in Christ are
to be reduced to the virtue of humility? "So it certainly
is," answers St. Augustine. Humility contains all things
because in this virtue is truth; therefore God must also dwell
therein, since He is the truth.
It was for this reason that God pledged Himself
to exalt the humble, and continually showers new graces upon them
in return for the glory He constantly receives from them. Hence
the inspired word again reminds us: "Be humble, and thou shalt
obtain every grace from God" (Ecclus. 3:20). This is why
Our Lady was so exalted, because she was so humble: "Because
he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: for behold from
henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that
is mighty hath done great things to me...He hath showed might
in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their
heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted
the humble" (Luke 1:48-52).
It is in the Incarnation--the first mystery of
the Rosary--that we see immense humility poured forth. No greater
example of humility can be given than that of the Only Son of
God when "the Word was made Flesh." Nothing could be
more sublime than the words of St. John's Gospel, "In the
beginning was the Word." And no abasement can be deeper than
that which follows: "And the Word was made Flesh." Our
Lady herself echoes this divine Humility by her humble acceptance
of the Will of God: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it
done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). If we could
only imitate this humble acceptance of God's daily will for ourselves,
instead of responding with impatience, anger, fear, refusal, dejection,
sarcasm, cynicism, mockery or such like responses.
Humility is a virtue that belongs essentially
to Christ, not only as man, but more especially as God, because
with God to be good, holy and merciful is not virtue but nature,
and humility is only a virtue. God cannot exalt Himself above
what He is, in His most high Being, nor can He increase His vast
and infinite greatness; but He can humiliate Himself as in fact
He did humiliate and lower Himself. "He humbled Himself, He
emptied Himself," (Phil. 2:7-8) revealing Himself to us,
through His humility, as the Lord of all virtues, the conqueror
of the world, of death, Hell and sin.
Jesus Christ summed up all His Heavenly doctrine
in humility, and before teaching it, it was His will to practice
it perfectly Himself. As St. Augustine says: "He was unwilling
to teach what He Himself was not, He was unwilling to command
what He Himself did not practice." (Lib. de sancta virginit.
c. xxxvi). But to what purpose did He do all this if not that
by this means all His followers should learn humility by practical
example? He is our Master, and we are His disciples; but what
profit do we derive from His teachings, which are practical and
How shameful it would be for anyone, after studying
for many years in a school of art or science, under the teaching
of excellent masters, if he were still to remain absolutely ignorant!
My shame is great indeed, because I have lived so many years in
the school of Jesus Christ, and yet I have learnt nothing of that
holy humility which He sought so earnestly to teach me. "Have
mercy upon me according to Thy Word. Thou art good, and in Thy
goodness teach me Thy justifications. Give me understanding, and
I will learn Thy Commandments" (Ps. 118:58, 68, 73).
There is a kind of humility which is of counsel
and of perfection such as that which desires and seeks the contempt
of others; but there is also a humility which is of necessity
and of precept, without which, says Christ, we cannot enter into
the kingdom of Heaven: "Thou shalt not enter into the kingdom
of Heaven" (Matt. xviii, 3). And this consists in not esteeming
ourselves and in not wishing to be esteemed by others above what
we really are. No one can deny this truth, that humility is essential
to all those who wish to be saved. "No one reaches the kingdom
of Heaven except by humility," says St. Augustine. (Lib.
de Salut. cap. xxxii)
But, I ask, what is, practically, this humility
which is so necessary? When we are told that faith and hope are
necessary, it is also explained to us what we are to believe and
to hope. In like manner, when humility is said to be necessary,
in what should its practice consist except in the lowest opinion
of ourselves? It is in this moral sense that the humility of the
heart has been explained by the fathers of the Church. But can
I say with truth that I possess this humility which I recognize
as necessary and obligatory? What care or solicitude do I display
to acquire it? When a virtue is of precept, so is its practice
also, as St. Thomas teaches.
How and when do I practice its acts, acknowledging
and confessing my unworthiness before God? The following was the
frequent prayer of St. Augustine, "Noscam Te, noscam me--May
I know Thee; may I know myself!" and by this prayer he asked
for humility, which is nothing else but a true knowledge of God
and of oneself. To confess that God is what He is, the Omnipotent,
"Great is the Lord, and exceedingly to be praised," (Ps.
47:1] and to declare that we are but nothingness before Him: "My
substance is as nothing before Thee" (Ps. 38:6)--this is
to be humble. There is no valid excuse for not being humble, because
we have always, within and without, abundant reasons for humility:
"And thy humiliation shall be in the midst of thee."
It is the Holy Ghost who sends us this warning by the mouth of
His prophet Micheas (6:14).
When we consider well what we are in body, and
what we are in soul, it seems to me most easy to humble oneself,
and even most difficult to be proud. To be humble it suffices
that I should nourish within myself that right feeling which belongs
to every man who is honorable in the eyes of the world, to be
content with one's own without unjustly depriving our neighbor
of what is his. Therefore, as I have nothing of my own but my
own nothingness, it is sufficient for humility that I should be
content with this nothingness. But if I am proud, I become like
a thief, appropriating to myself that which is not mine but God's.
And most assuredly it is a greater sin to rob God of that which
belongs to God than to rob man of that which is man's.
To be humble let us listen to the revelation
of the Holy Ghost which is infallible. "Behold you are nothing,
and your work is of that which hath no being." (Isa. 41:24)
But who is really convinced of his own nothingness?
It is for this reason that in holy Scripture
it is said: "Every man is a liar" (Ps. 115: 2). For there
is no man who from time to time does not entertain some incredible
self-esteem, and form some false opinion as to his being, or having,
or achieving something more than is possible to his own nothingness.
Yet, we should all remember the words Our Lord spoke to Sister
Josefa Menendez (Way of Divine Love): "You are nothingness
personified!"--which is just another way of saying "Without
Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5). So let us humble ourselves
with St. John the Baptist and say, "He must increase: but
I must decrease" (John 3:30).
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