Sections 26 - 30: Humility of the Heart - by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
26. Every morning we ought to make this prayer and daily offering to God: I offer Thee, O my God, all my thoughts, all my words and all my actions of this day. Grant that they may be thoughts of humility, words of humility, and actions of humility ----- all to Thy glory.
Also during the course of the day it will be well to repeat this ejaculatory prayer: "Lord Jesus, give me a humble and contrite heart." These few words contain all that we can possibly ask of God; because in praying for a contrite heart we ask Him for that which is necessary to ensure forgiveness for our past life, and in praying for a humbled heart all that which is required to secure life everlasting. Oh, may I at the hour of death find myself with a contrite and humbled heart! Then what confidence shall I not have in the mercy of God if I can exclaim with King David: "A contrite and humble heart, O my God, Thou wilt not despise." We very often offer prayers to God to which He might justly reply: "Thou knowest not what thou askest" [Ps. l, 19] but when we ask for holy humility, we know for certain we are asking for something which is most pleasing to God and most necessary to ourselves; and in asking for this we must believe that God will maintain His infallible promise: "Ask, and it shall be given you." [Matt. vii, 7]
27. If we examine all our falls into sin, whether venial or grave, the cause will always be found in some hidden pride; and true indeed are the words of the Holy Ghost: "For pride is the beginning of all sin." Of this truth our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has warned us in His Gospel where He says: "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled." [Matt. xxiii, 12] God can give no greater humiliation to a soul than to allow it to fall into sin; because sin is the lowest depth of all that is base, vile and ignominious.
Therefore each time that we are humbled by falling into sin, it is certain that we must previously have exalted ourselves by some act of pride; because only the proud are threatened with the punishment of this humiliation: "And he humbled himself afterwards, because his heart had been lifted up." For thus it is written of King Ezechias in Holy Scripture, and the inspired writer has also said: "Before destruction the heart of man is exalted." [Prov. xviii, 12]
There never has been a case of sin, says St. Augustine, nor ever will be one, nor can ever be one, of which pride was not in some measure the occasion: " There never can have been, and never can be, and there never shall be any sin without pride."
Let us be so truly humble that we may not incur the punishment of this humiliation. No one can fall who lies on the ground; and no one can sin so long as he is humble. My God! My God! Let me remain in my nothingness, for it is the surest state for me.
28. We read of many who after being renowned for their holiness, fervent in the exercise of prayer, great penances and signal virtues, and who after being favoured by God with the gifts of ecstasy, revelations and miracles, have nevertheless fallen into the hideous vice of impurity at the slightest approach of temptation. And when I consider it, I find that there is no sin that degrades the soul so much as this impure sin of the senses, because the soul, from being reasoning and spiritual, like the Angels, becomes thereby carnal, sensual and like brute beasts "who have no understanding." [Ps. xxxi, 9]
I am constrained to adore with fear the supreme judgments of God and also for my own warning to learn that pride was the reason of so great a fall; therefore we should all exclaim with the prophet, "And being exalted I have been humbled and troubled," [Ps. lxxxvii] and say to ourselves the words which he said to Lucifer after he had "meditated in his heart: 'I will ascend' "-----"How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer." [Isa. xiv]
The soul is humbled according to the measure of its self-exaltation, and great must have been the pride which was followed by such a tremendous and abominable humiliation. Ah, how much more precious is one degree of humility in comparison with a thousand revelations or ecstasies! Of what use is it, says St. Augustine, to possess unsullied purity and chastity and virginity if pride dominates the heart? "Of what avail is continence to him who is dominated by pride?"
It is a wise and just disposition of God to permit the fall of the proud into every sin and especially into that of wantonness, as being the most degrading, so that by so great a fall he should be ashamed, humbled and cured of his pride. O St. Thomas, how well hast thou said: "He who is fettered by pride and does not know it, falls into the sin of impurity which is manifestly of itself disgraceful, that through this sin he may rise humiliated from his confession." From this, the Saint continues, is shown the gravity of the sin of pride; and as a doctor often permits his patient to suffer from a minor ill so as to liberate him from a greater, so God permits the soul to fall into the sin of the senses, so that it may be cured of the vice of pride.
To whatever sublime height of sanctity we may have attained, a fall is always to be feared. For, as says St. Augustine, there is no holiness that cannot be lost through pride alone: "If there be holiness in you, fear lest you may lose it. How? Through pride."
However much our Christian self-love desires to avoid the remorse and repentance which ever follows the humiliations caused by sin, we should nevertheless desire and seek to be humble because if we are humble we can never be humbled. "O my soul," we must say to ourselves," O my soul, look well into thyself and be humble if thou dost not will that God should humble thee with temporal and eternal shame." God promises to exalt the humble, and Heaven is filled with the humble; God also threatens the proud with humiliation, and Hell is filled with the proud. God thus promises and menaces so that if we do not remain in humility allured by His great promises, we should at least remain in humility from fear of His potent threats: "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." [Matt. xxiii, 12]
God regards the petitions of the humble favourably, and inclines to answer them: " He hath regard to the prayer of the humble, and He hath not despised their petition." [Ps. ci, 18] But however much the proud man may invoke God, God will give him no spiritual consolation. St. Augustine says: "God will not come, even though thou call upon Him, if thou art puffed up."
These things are all old and oft-repeated, but it is because we know them and do not practice them that we deserve the reproof given by the prophet Daniel to Nabuchodonosor:" Thou hast not humbled thy heart, whereas thou knewest all these things." [Dan. v, 22]
30. At times we are over-scrupulous about works of supererogation, such for instance as having omitted on such a day to say a certain prayer or to perform some self-imposed mortification; these are scruples of omissions which in regard to our eternal salvation are of little or no importance; but we take but little heed of that humility which is to us most essential and necessary and without which no one can be saved. St. Paul warns us: "Do not become children in sense." [1 Cor. xiv, 20] Do not be like children who cry and despair if an apple is taken away from them, but care little for losing a gem of great value. Let us place humility above all things. It is the hidden treasure buried in the field, to acquire which we ought to sell all we possess. [Matt. xiii, 44] It is the pearl of great price, to obtain which we should sell all we have. [Matt. xiii. 45]
Do not let us call these sins against humility scruples, but let us regard them as real sins, worthy of confession and of amendment. May God guard us from too easy a conscience in respect to that true humility which is commanded us in the Gospel. We should indeed be taking the broad way mentioned by the Holy Ghost, which though it seems the right and straight road nevertheless leads direct to perdition: "There is a way that seemeth to a man right, and the ends thereof lead to death." [Prov. xvi, 25]
There are people who think like the Pharisees that virtue and sanctity consist in prayers of great length, in the visiting of churches, and in some special abstinence, in retreats, in modesty of attire, in spiritual conferences or in some exercise of exterior piety; but in all this who thinks of humility? Who esteems it and studies to acquire it? What is all this then but a vain delusion?