Sections 31 - 35: Humility of the Heart - by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
31. We read of various ancient philosophers who bore calumny, insults and contempt with perfect equanimity and without anger or perturbation, but they did not even know the name of humility. Their courageous fortitude was only an effect of refined pride, for as they considered themselves far above kings and emperors they cared little about insults, and maintained their equanimity by the contempt with which they looked down on those who insulted them. They overcame their feeling of resentment by a passion that was more dominating still, and that they were modest, peaceable and gentle was an effect of that pride which despotically ruled the feelings of their hearts.
There is an immense difference between the morality of human philosophy and that evangelical morality taught by Jesus Christ. Read the works of Seneca attentively-----he who was held to exceed all other philosophers in morality,-----and you will see how in those very maxims with which he teaches magnanimity and fortitude he also instills pride. Read the works of the most famous of the Stoics, and you will say with St. Jerome that "When they are studied with the greatest care and attention, there is to be found no satisfactory fullness of truth, no correspondence with the true principles of justice."
All is vanity that only inspires vanity.
It is only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that are to be found the rules of that humility of heart which is true virtue, consisting in the knowledge of God's greatness and of our own nothingness; and it is by attending to the study of this wise humility that we fulfill the Apostolic precept: "Not to be more wise than it behoveth to be wise, but to be wise unto sobriety." [Rom. xii, 3]
Jesus Christ before teaching anything of His new law wished to teach humility, as St. John Chrysostom observes: "When He began to lay down His Divine laws, He started with humility." For without humility it is impossible to comprehend this Heavenly doctrine, but with humility we are enabled to understand everything that is necessary or useful to our salvation.
32. To confess our unworthiness and nothingness and to proclaim that all that is good in us comes from God is often the sterile exercise of a very contemptible humility, and may even be great pride, "magna superbia," as St. Augustine observes, and St. Thomas teaches: "Humility, which is a virtue, is always fruitful in good works."
Do you wish to have an idea of what that humility is which is a true virtue? The soul is truly humble when it recognizes that its true position in the order of nature or of grace is entirely dependent on the power, providence and mercy of God; so that finding in itself nothing but what is of God, it appropriates to itself only its own nothingness, and abiding in its nothingness it places itself on the level of all other creatures without raising itself in any way above them. It annihilates itself before God, not so as to remain in an otiose inactivity, but seeking rather to glorify Him continually, conforming with exact obedience to His laws and with perfect submission to His will.
Humility has two eyes: with one we recognize our own misery so as not to attribute to ourselves anything but our nothingness; with the other we recognize our duty to work and to attribute everything to God, referring all things to Him: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Thy name give glory." [Ps. cxiii, 1]
The truly humble man considers that whatever is good to his material or spiritual nature is like unto the streams that have come originally from the sea and must eventually return to the sea; and therefore he is always careful to render to God all that he has received from God, and neither prays nor loves nor desires anything except that in all things the name of God be sanctified: "Hallowed be Thy name." [Matt. vi, 9]
33. Humility is not a sickly virtue, timid and feeble as some imagine; on the contrary, it is strong, magnanimous, generous and constant, because it is founded on truth and justice. The truth consists in knowing What God is and what we are. Justice consists in our recognizing that God as our Creator has a right to command us, and that we as His creatures are bound to obey Him.
All the Martyrs were perfectly humble because they preferred to die suffering the most terrible torments rather than abandon truth and justice. How great their endurance and courage in resisting those who tried to force them to deny Jesus Christ!
To contradict others is an effect of pride whenever we contradict them in order to follow our own unjust and mistaken will; but when our opposition to the creature proceeds from a determination to fulfill the will of the Creator it is dictated by humility; for by this we confess our indispensable obligation to be subject and obedient to the Divine will.
It is for this reason that the proud man is always timid because his pride is only sustained by the weakness of human nature. And he who is humble is always brave in the exercise of his submission to the Divine Majesty because he receives his strength through grace.
The humble obey men, when in so doing they also obey God; but they refuse obedience to men, when by obeying them they would disobey their God. Reflect upon that answer, as modest as it was magnanimous, given before the elders of Jerusalem by St. Peter and St. John: "If it be just in the sight of God to hear you rather than God, judge ye." [Acts iv, 19]
The humble man is above all human respect, and there is no danger that he will become a slave to the opinions, fashions or customs of the world; he knows his failings and that he is capable of every evil even though he does not commit it. If he sees others doing wrong he compassionates them, but is never scandalized or induced to follow the bad examples of others; because all his intentions are directed towards God, and he has no other desire than that of pleasing God and of being directed by God alone. "He clings to God alone;" hence, as the angelic St. Thomas says so well: "No matter how much he sees others acting inordinately in word or deed, he himself will not depart from his uprightness of conduct."
34. The heart of the proud man is like a stormy sea, never at rest: "Like the raging sea which cannot rest;" [Isa. lvii, 20] and the heart of the humble is fully content in its humility-----"Rich in his being low" [James i, 10]-----and is always calm and tranquil and without fear that anything in this world should disturb him, and shall "rest with confidence." [Isa. xiv, 30] And from whence proceeds this difference? The humble man enjoys peace and quiet because he lives according to the rules of truth and justice, submitting his own will in all things to the Divine will. The proud man is always agitated and perturbed because of the opposition he is continually offering to the Divine will in order to fulfill his own.
The more the heart is filled with self-love, so much the greater will be its anxiety and agitation. This maxim is indeed true; for whenever I feel myself inwardly irritated, disturbed and angered by some adversity which has befallen me, I need not look elsewhere for the cause of such feelings than within myself, and I should always do well to say: If I were truly humble I should not be disquieted. My great agitation is an evident proof which ought to convince me that my self-love is great and dominant and powerful within me, and is the tyrant which torments and gives me no peace.
If I feel aggrieved by some sharp word that has been said to me, or by some discourtesy shown me, from whence does this feeling of pain proceed? From my pride alone. Oh, if I were truly humble, what calm, what peace and happiness would my soul not enjoy! And this promise of Jesus Christ is infallible: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart, and you shall find rest to your souls." [Matt. xi, 29]
When we are distressed by some adversity, it is unnecessary to seek consolation of those who flatter us or have pity on us, and to whom we can pour out our troubles. It is sufficient to ask our soul: "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why dost thou disquiet me?" [Ps. xli, 12] My soul, what hast thou? and what seekest thou? Dost thou perchance desire that rest which thou hast lost? Listen then to the remedy offered to thee by thy Saviour, exhorting thee to learn of Him to be humble, "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart," and further listen to what He adds when He assures thee that with thy lost humility thou shalt also recover thy peace: "And you shall find rest to your souls."
35. There are two kinds of humiliations: those which we seek of our own free-will, and those which proceed from the natural and temporal vicissitudes of this life. Against the first we must be on our guard, notwithstanding the ardour with which we embrace them, for the ever-lurking vanity of our self-love is so subtle that it seeks even to enhance its own vain-glory while it appears to seek the contempt of man. But if we accept the other humiliations which come to us, irrespective of our will, mortifying our feelings, thoughts and passions with prompt resignation to the will of God, it is a sign of a true and sincere humility; because such humiliations tend to mortify our self-love and to perfect the submission which we owe to God.
Voluntary and self-sought humiliations may cause the soul to become hypocritical. But involuntary humiliations sent to us by the Divine Will, and borne by us with patience, sanctify the soul; and for this reason the Holy Ghost has given us this most important mandate: "In thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation." [Ecclus ii, 4, 5] It is impossible except in rare cases not to discover the hypocrisy of affected humility: "Touch the mountains, and they shall smoke." [Ps. cxliii, 5] And, again, it is impossible not to know the virtue of true humility, because its spirit is "gentle, kind, steadfast, assured, secure, having all power."