Sections 41 - 45: Humility of the Heart - by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
41. We may say that one of the principal causes of our lack of humility is that we forget too readily the sins we have committed. We only think of our sins when we are preparing for Confession, and even then we only think of our sins in order to sum up their kind and number, in order to make a valid Confession, but we hardly ever stop to consider their gravity, enormity and malice. And even if we do bestow some slight thought on them, it is only in order to flatter ourselves that our sorrow is sufficient for the validity of our Confession, and what is still more amazing is that we are hardly out of the Confessional when the remembrance of all our sins vanishes, and even the greatest sinner lives in a state of absolute peace, as if he had always led the most innocent of lives. O miserable state! We always retain a vivid remembrance of those insults which we receive from our fellow-men, thereby fostering our resentment; but we do not bear in remembrance those insults which we have offered to God, thereby becoming humble and exhorting ourselves to repentance. What wonder that we do not become humble if we remain oblivious to these urgent motives for humility!
Let us remember our sins, not in order that they should make us over-scrupulous, but so as to live in due humility. It is for that same reason that Jeremias the prophet said that he who does not do penance does not practice humility, because "There is none that saith: What have I done?" [Jer. viii, 6] If we thought well over this, "What have I done?" what have I done in sinning? what have I done in offending God? our hearts would certainly be far more contrite and humble. But few think of this.
We call upon the heavens to be astonished at us: "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this." [Jer. ii, 12] If a nobleman is insulted in some public resort by a low-born menial, the offense is considered great, and an adequate punishment is demanded for such an outrage; and yet it is only a man who has been insulted by another man, a worm that is offended by another worm, nothingness offended by nothingness. But that this worm, this nothingness, should insult the Divine majesty of God apparently causes no dismay. "Be astonished, O ye heavens," but at least let us be ashamed and humble ourselves for our insensate hardness of heart.
42. There are two special virtues which the Son of God wished to teach us, and recommended us most earnestly to practice------humility and brotherly love; and it is precisely against these two virtues that the devil wages war the most. But it is enough that he should succeed in conquering humility for love to be overcome at the same time, because, as St. Augustine says: "You cannot attain to charity except through humility."
Pride is always ready to take offense; and with this disposition to resent slights and injuries how is it possible to live in charity? When we find two persons who are prone to disagree, and to whom reconciliation is difficult, we cannot be far wrong in concluding that both are full of pride. Therefore it is obvious that charity cannot exist without humility.
It is for this reason that St. Paul, after having exhorted Christians to brotherly love, advises them at the same time to be humble: "But in humility let each esteem others better than themselves," [Phil. ii, 3] for well he knew that brotherly love cannot endure without humility; for where pride exists there will also arise contentions, quarreling and strife: "Among the proud there are always contentions." [Prov. xiii, 10]
Let us accept the apostolic admonition, and do not let us blame others for their pride when they cause us displeasure, but rather blame ourselves for not knowing how to bear that displeasure with humility. Let us begin by acquiring that patient humility ourselves which we desire so much to see in others, remembering that it is not through the patience and humility of others that we shall be saved but by our own.
43. It is difficult for those who possess riches or learning to be humble, because these two gifts are apt to cause vanity in those who possess them. It is far better therefore to be less rich and less learned and to be humble, than to possess great riches or great learning and to be proud.
Nevertheless, many who are now Saints in Heaven were both rich and learned when they were on earth; but they are Saints because they were humble; and both riches and learning must be regarded as vanity, and not esteemed except in so far as they can help us to gain eternal happiness. This is the way of the truly humble; he does not esteem himself for his possessions or for his knowledge, but regards these all as nothing, because he regards himself also as nothingness.
"Set not your heart upon them." [Ps. lxi, 11] This is not a counsel but a precept; and God, through His prophet, wishes to instruct us: If you are rich in possessions or in knowledge, be nevertheless poor of heart, that is to say, be humble. This is difficult, it is true; but to overcome the difficulty increases the merit of the virtue. There is no great merit in being humble when our condition is lowly, but there is great merit in being humble when we are surrounded by the incentives to pride, which are riches and learning. St. Bernard says: "It is no great thing for a man to be humble in abjection, but for one who is honoured humility is altogether a great and rare virtue." It is a beautiful sight for men and for Angels to see a rich man who is modest and apparently forgetful of his wealth, and a wise man who seems unaware of his great knowledge.
44. Although sin is in itself a great evil-----in fact the greatest of all evils-----still under a certain form it can prove a food to us if we know how to avail ourselves of it as a means of exercising humility. How many great sinners have become great Saints without having done anything more than keep their sins constantly before their eyes, and humble themselves in shame and confusion before God and their fellowmen!
Those words: "Against Thee only have I sinned," which David carried in his heart, contributed more than anything else to make him a Saint. And the angelic St. Thomas in explaining the verse of St. Paul to the Romans: [Romans viii, 28] "This is the good that profits them that love God, for when they fall from the love of God by sin they then return to Him more humble and more cautious."
It is in this that the good and wisdom of God is most admirably set forth, that He offers us a means of sanctifying ourselves through our very miseries, and we shall never be able to make the excuse that we could not become Saints because we committed grave sin, when those very sins might have been the means of sanctifying us by urging us to a deeper humility. How great is God's mercy in thus giving me the means of sanctifying myself only by remembering that I have sinned and by meditating in the light of holy faith upon what it means to be a sinner!
St. Mary Magdalene did not become holy so much by the tears she shed as by the humility of her heart. Her sanctification began when she first began to be humble in the knowledge of herself and of God. "She knew." [Luke vii, 37]
She advanced in sanctity as she advanced in humility, for when she did not dare to appear before Jesus Christ she remained behind Him, "and standing behind," [Luke vii, 38] and she completed her career of sanctity by her humility, for, as St. Gregory says, she did nothing all the rest of her life but meditate upon the great evil she had committed in sinning. "She considered what she had done."
45. When we feel ashamed and disturbed at having fallen into sin, this is but a temptation of the devil, who tries to make use of our distress to draw us perhaps into some graver sin.
The sorrow we feel at having offended God does not distress the soul, but rather leaves it calm and serene, because it is a sorrow united to humility, which brings grace with it; but to be distressed and overwhelmed by sadness-----either from the shame we feel at having committed some disgraceful action, or from a sudden recognition of our liability to fall just when we thought ourselves stronger and more faithful than ever-----is simply pride, which is born of an excessive self-love. We have too good an opinion of ourselves, and this is the reason why we are disturbed when we see our reputation injured by others or diminished by our own actions. If I reflect well whenever I am distressed about my own faults, I shall find that my distress is only due to pride, which persuades me by the subtle artifice of self-love that I am better than the just themselves, of whom it is written: " A just man shall fall seven times." [Prov. xxiv, 16]
He who is humble, even though he fall through frailty, soon repents with sorrow, and implores the Divine assistance to help him to amend; nor is he astonished at having fallen, because he knows that of himself he is only capable of evil, and would do far worse if God did not protect Him with His grace. After having sinned it is good to humble oneself before God, and without losing courage to remain in humility so as not to fall again, and to say with David: "I have been humbled, O Lord, exceedingly; quicken Thou me according to Thy word." [Ps. cxviii, 107] But to afflict ourselves without measure, and to give way to a certain pusillanimous melancholy, which brings us to the verge of despair, is a temptation of pride, insinuated by the devil, of whom it is written, he is king "over all the children of pride." [Job xli, 25]