Sections 16 - 20: Humility of the Heart - by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
- 16. We may persuade ourselves that we possess various virtues, because we have a tangible proof within us that we really have them. Thus we may judge ourselves to be chaste, because we feel really attracted to chastity; or we may think ourselves abstemious, because we are so by nature; or obedient, because we practice a ready obedience. But however much a man may exercise humility, he can never form any judgment as to his being really humble, for he who thinks himself humble is no longer so.
In the same way that to recognize that we are proud is the beginning of humility, so to flatter ourselves that we are humble is the beginning of pride, and the more humble we think ourselves the greater is our pride. That self-complacency which the heart feels, making us imagine that we are humble in consequence of some agreeable reflections we have had about ourselves, is a species of vanity; and how can vanity exist with humility which is founded solely on truth? Vanity is nothing but a lie, and it is precisely from a lie that pride springs.
Let us pray to God with the prophet: "Let not the foot of pride come to me." [Ps. xxxv, 12] Grant, O my God, that I may be humble, but that I may not know that I am humble. Make me holy, yet ignorant of holiness; for if I should learn to know or even to imagine myself holy, I should become vain; and through vanity should lose all humility and holiness.
17. From what has just been said it is possible that a tormenting doubt might arise in the mind of some one who might say: If I must judge myself to be wanting in humility, I must conclude that I am lost, and such a judgment would lead me to despair. But do you not perceive the error? To speak wisely you ought to say: I know I am wanting in humility; therefore I must try and obtain it; for without humility I am a reprobate, and it is necessary to be humble in order to be among the elect.
There would indeed be cause for despair if on the one hand humility were necessary for salvation and on the other it were unattainable. But nothing is more natural to us than humility, because we are drawn towards it by our own misery; and nothing is easier, since it is enough for us to open our eyes and to know ourselves; this is not a virtue we need go far to seek, as we can always find it within ourselves, and we have an infinity of good reasons in ourselves for doing so. Nevertheless we must labour as long as life lasts to acquire humility, nor must we ever imagine that we have acquired it; and even should we have obtained it in some degree, we must still continue to strive after it as though we did not possess it, in order that we may be able to keep it. Let us have a true desire to be humble; let us not cease to implore God that He may give us the grace to be humble; and let us often study the motives that may help to make us humble of heart; and let us not doubt the Divine Goodness, but conform to the advice given us in Holy Writ: "Think of the Lord in goodness."
18. Although we feel the humiliation keenly when we are insulted, persecuted or calumniated, this does not mean that we cannot suffer such trials with sentiments of true humility, subjecting nature to reason and faith and sacrificing the resentment of our self-love to the love of God. We are not made of stone, so that we need be insensible or senseless in order to be humble. Of some Martyrs we read that they writhed under their torments; of others that they more or less rejoiced in them, according to the greater or less degree of unction they received from the Holy Ghost; and all were rewarded by the crown of glory, as it is not the pain or the feeling that makes the Martyr but the supernatural motive of virtue. In the same way some humble persons feel pleasure in being humiliated, and some feel sadness, especially when weighed down with calumny; and yet they all belong to the sphere of the humble, because it is not the humiliation nor the suffering alone which makes the soul humble, but the interior act by which this same humiliation is accepted and received through motives of Christian humility and especially of a desire to resemble Jesus Christ, Who, though entitled to all the honours the world could offer Him, bore humiliation and scorn for the glory of His eternal Father: "For Thy sake, O God of Israel, I have borne reproach." [Ps. lxviii, 8]
The doctrine of St. Bernard is worthy of our notice: It is one thing to be humiliated, and another to be humble. It often happens that the proud man is humiliated, yet he nevertheless remains proud, receiving humiliations with anger and contempt, doing all he can to escape them with fretful impatience. It sometimes happens too that the proud man becomes humble; the humiliation teaching him to know himself as he is, and by this knowledge he learns to love this very humiliation: "He is humble who converts all his humiliations into humility and says unto God: 'It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me.' "
19. In the spiritual life I can promise myself nothing without the special help of God; and most true is the teaching of the Holy Ghost: "Thy help is only in Me." From one moment to another I may fall into mortal sin: consequently, even though I may have laboured many years in acquiring virtues, I may in one instant lose all the good I have done, lose all my merit for eternity, and lose even that blessed eternity itself. How can a king rule with arrogance, when he is besieged by his enemies and from day to day runs the risk of losing his kingdom and ceasing to be a king? And has not a Saint abundant reason, from the thought of his own weakness, to live always in a state of great humility, when he knows that from one hour to another he may lose the grace of God and the kingdom of Heaven which he has merited by years of labouriously-acquired virtues? "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain that build it." [Ps. cxxvi, 1]
However spiritual and holy a man may be, he cannot regard himself as absolutely secure. The Angels themselves, enriched with sanctity, were not safe in Paradise. Man, endowed with innocence, was not safe in his earthly paradise. What safety therefore can there be for us with our corrupt nature, amid so many perils and so many enemies, who within and without are ever seeking insidiously to undermine our eternal salvation?
In order to be eternally damned it is enough I should follow the dictates of nature, but to be saved it is necessary that Divine grace should prevent and accompany me, should follow and help me, watch over me, and never abandon me. Oh, how right therefore was St. Paul in exhorting us to "work out our salvation"-----which is for all eternity-----"with fear and trembling"! [Phil. ii, 12]
20. To be contented and self-satisfied, to lead a quiet, easy-going life, accomplishing only what duty prescribes, is not a good sign. After having done all that our Christian profession requires of us, our Lord nevertheless wishes us to consider ourselves useless servants of His Church: "So you also, when you shall have done all things commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants." [Luke xvii, 10] Therefore how much more useless we ought to consider ourselves, if we live in tepidity and sloth, by which we are still so far removed from that perfection to which we are bound!
When I make my examine of conscience do I find that I fulfill all my duties in the sight of God? What virtue have I acquired hitherto? It may be said that we have acquired the habit of such and such a virtue when we come to practice it willingly and with facility; but when I examine myself, what virtue can I find which I habitually practice with pleasure and facility? I cannot find even one. I am a most unprofitable servant on earth; and if I were now called before the tribunal of my eternal Judge, I much fear that it would be said to me: "Thou wicked servant," [Matt. xviii, 32] and not, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." [Matt. xxv, 21]