On Humility


On Humility

Laura asked in a comment to a post below

What does humility look like in our everyday lives? What do we think it is, but is really only a disguise for pride.

And there were a couple of very fine answers. I particularly liked Tom's:

St. Catherine of Siena wrote that "humility proceeds from self-knowledge." I think self-knoweldge is necessary and sufficient for humility -- if you know who you are and who you aren't, what you can do and what you can't, you will be humble, and if you are humble you know these things. So I'd take signs of self-knowledge as signs of humility, and their absence as an implication of pride.

And Alicia's point is a powerful one and the specific case of Tom's more general answer:

sometimes humility is in silence, sometimes in speaking up. what it isn't is aptly described by charles dickens in david copperfield - mr.micawber (I think) - the one who was 'so 'umble!"

Humility will look quite different on different people depending in large part on their personalities and on the gifts that God has given them. Because humility is at its core truest knowledge of the self and knowledge of the self with respect to the grand Other that created all that is, humility is best displayed when we are not wearing one of the many masks that we don for purposes of moving through society. A truly humble person does not change in demeanor from one interaction to another. Paraphrasing from what you must all (by now) recognize as one of the great "sacred texts" in my life, "(Being a Gentleman) Isn't so much a matter of treating one person better than another, but treating them all the same. You treat a flower girl as a duchess and I treat a duchess as a flower girl..." (Henry Higgins).

That is the reality. Humility is self-knowledge and true self-knowledge allows us to look at others and see Christ. When we can do THAT, then what can we do but treat everyone equally and show ourselves for what we are, lowly servants, "Not fit to undo the strap of His sandal."

However, you can fake this as well. You can be in public service oriented and mild and meek and smiling, and return to your house kick off your shoes and say, "Thank God, that's over with, what a unwashed mob." Humility must be carefully nurtured and cultivated. It starts from knowledge of self, as St. Catherine of Siena and countless others have pointed out. But it grows through prayers (as do all virtues and habits of sanctity) and it grows through aligning our will with the will of God and (to quote another Text of some considerable import) "Looking for the Good in people." (Pollyanna). Because when your look for the good in people (as the film shows), you will surely find it. And why is that so? Because Christ is in our fellow human beings. So we sheer away all the prickly surfaces, all of the personality that we don't care for, all of the tics and quirks that irritate us and we embrace Christ in that person.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux cultivated humility with a smile. Everyone knows the tale of the nun whom no one cared for--a particularly, prickly, sour, disagreeable nun all the other nuns did their best to avoid. St. Thérèse went out of her way to smile at this person though she had no real affection for her. She smiled brilliantly every time she met her to the point that the nun once commented to St. Thérèse, "You must have a most special affection for me. Everytime you see me you give me such a broad smile." What Thérèse loved was the image of Christ in this person and she subdued her own natural inclination to dislike the nun so that she was able to recognize Jesus.

Humility must be cultivated through prayer, love (expressed in works, even so small a work as a smile at someone you dislike), and detachment. These four and others are constant companions. It seems, and I may be very wrong here, that none may grow long without the others and they all grow with the cultivation of one. Cultivating humility drives one toward prayer--when we really look at ourselves and see ourselves as God does, when we have solid self-knowledge that includes both our wretchedness and the fact that despite our wretchedness we are prized as much as or more than the most precious Person who ever lived, we come to understand the supreme value of every living soul. We cultivate humility through knowledge of Christ--in the scriptures, in the writings of the great saints, and in prayer. We also cultivate it through a daily (or more frequent) examen to see how we have been greeting God in our fellow human beings.

Tom's post mentioned St. Gaspar del Bufalo's "Maxims for the Pursuit of Humility" (available courtesy of Father Keyes at the excellent New Gasparian site. Posted on this site is a kind of examen list, St. Josemaria Escriva's Seventeen Evidences of a Lack of Humility. If you are not disinclined to Opus Dei spirituality, you might visit this site and use the very fine search engine to look up and read the brief passages on humility.

Humility is "Something Beautiful for God," it is ultimate self knowledge, and at the same time, paradoxically, self-forgetfulness in the beloved. It is a garment cut to the individual and expressed quite differently by different people. It might appear shockingly off-putting, as when Mother Teresa spoke at the Presidential prayer breakfast and raked the people there over the coals for the culture of death they supported and cultivated. Humility is true love so that it never lies, nor does it seek to wound or hurt.

That's as much as I can say to help you on the way. All of the saints address it, many of them tell you how to cultivate it far better than I can do. (After all, I have to spend some time doing so before I would know what to tell everyone else.) But humility is the important garment that holds many of the virtues together and allows truthful expression of them. Humility guides us in what to say and how. Humility may show up as humor, as when St. Teresa of Avila spoke to the Almighty after falling from her horse, "If this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few." Humility speaks the truth in love, always. I pray for this virtue, but do not spend enough time actually seeking it out. I pray for an increase in the resolution to cultivate and express humility for by so doing, I can help the lives of those around me to be just a little better.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on June 20, 2003 8:21 AM.

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