On Humility

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from Ordinary Graces
complied by Lorraine Kisly

Humility is just as much the opposite of self-abasement as it is of self-exaltation. to be humble is not to make comparisons. Secure in its reality, the self is neither better nor worse, bigger nor smaller, than anything else in the universe. It is--is nothing, yet at the same time one with everything. It is in this sense that humility is absolute self-effacement.

To be nothing in the self-effacement of humility, yet, for the sake of the task, to embody its whole weight and importance in your bearing, as the one who has been called to undertake it. To give to people, works, poetry, art, what the self can contribute, and to take, simply and freely, what belongs to it by reason of its identity. Praise and blame, the winds of success and adversity, blow over such a life without leaving a trace or upsetting its balance.

Towards this, so help me, God--

Dag Hammerskjöld

While there is much food for thought here, I have a simple note on the beginning. Some time back there were comments about false-humility in Catholicism. There was some intimation that when one looked at a veritable monster, say Saddam Hussein, and said, I am the chiefest of sinners, there was something false in that humility. But it is possible for the humble person, and necessary, it would seem, to say, "I am the chiefest of sinners." For in humility we do not compare, and so we would know only our own state and in that knowledge each one of us is, in fact, the biggest sinner we know. Now, there is part of me that reels at the contradiction--surely I can look out into the world and see people who have done things far worse than I could ever contemplate--they are thickly encrusted in the deepest darkest muck of sin. I however, have never done such things, but I have done others. My muck may be of a different color, but for all I know may be twice as thick as the person I am looking at. We forget that ALL sin is equally abhorrent in the eyes of God. Anyway, I belabor the point. True humility does not admit of comparison--comparison is nearly always an act of pride (when it is to oneself that the comparison is made).

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I think I get your overriding point about humility, but to me "chiefest" or "worst" of sinners in plain language can only be a comparison, and it doesn't seem helpful to insist that some great saint thought that and therefore any sincere Christian would think that of themselves, instead of keeping it to "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and that means you and me." (Really long sentence there.) "Serious spiritual reading" often leaves me sympathizing (not agreeing!!) more with people who dismiss Catholicism as some kind of masochism or a game you can't win. That is probably a fault in myself, either one of pride or one of nitpicking about saying someone can be the "chiefest" perpetrator among the perpetrators of "equally abhorrent" sins.

I know that I am the worst of sinners is a statement that CAN rightly be made without comparison, for the reason that we do not know the state of anyone else's soul, even those who would seem to us to be the worst cases. What has been their oppression of spirit? How have they tragically misunderstood the events of their lives, etc... What have they resisted? What is the state of their compunction at any given moment...and on and on. Moreover, "I know that I am the most abject of sinners" may also be read to be an understanding of the depths of one's misery, rather than a sinnin' contest, so to speak. I think it is not necessary even to understand it as a felt comparison. By the grace of God, as time goes on I am more and more convicted that I am the most miserable of sinners!
Fortunately, as I throw myself into the arms of my Abba, I know that His mercy and grace are more than sufficient for me. His very justice is his mercy, just because He know how little and frail we are. I just don;t see it as a comparison. I fact, I think if one were truly comparing sins, one would be LESS likely to say this. "Hey, after all, I'm no Uday Hussein!", after all.

I am sure you are right and it's just a block in my understanding. I have not done anything as *spectacularly* evil as Uday Hussein, but when I contemplate how I knowingly and willfully rejected God's grace at some points, I can't say that my sin was any less grave than Hussein's were, and I don't know at all how knowing and willful he was.

Re my last comment, I only mean that my sins don't have the same "gasp" factor as Hussein's actions, hence not as spectacularly evil but not necessarily less evil. I just didn't have the means or the inclination to do all that he did, but what I did with my means and my inclination matters more, right?



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 3, 2003 7:50 AM.

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