Humility is regarded by nearly all of the saints, Carmelite and others, as one of the key necessities for anyone who would attain to sanctity. But what, precisely, is humility? I've wondered about this for a while and cannot claim to have final answers, but all of my reading and praying has lead in one direction: humility is finding one's life in Jesus Christ. In a sense, humility is the doorway to our place within the eternal love of the Holy Trinity. You cannot do anything worthwhile in religious life without a very strong sense of humility.
Humility concludes that we are not worthy of any worldly honors or celestial attention; yet, it does not do so through lack of self-esteem. Humility is not humiliation. Humility is tough-mindedly realistic. Humility stares a hole through the fabric of lies with which we surround and cushion ourselves. Humility also allows us to serve without feeling as though we are doing a service, but a service is being done us. Humility is the fuel of the joy of service.
Humility also requires that we strip away the fabrications about ourselves. Layer by layer we uncover what we really are. To do so we must stop taking anything worldly as a standard and instead stand in the doorway of heaven to see how we measure up. Think about it as the record of a child's growth--we stand in the doorway and see where the mark is relative to where it last was. To do this, we must stop evaluating ourselves with respect to others. Humility allows for no comparison to anyone on Earth. As soon as we begin to compare, even if we come off the worse for comparison, we lack humility. There is a certain presumption in comparison--that I approach the goodness or the greatness of the person to whom I am comparing myself; that, in fact, someday I may exceed that goodness or greatness.
Humility is difficult. It means that I must look upon people who commit atrocious acts against others and see that the same thing is within me. Humility recognizes, "There but for the grace of God go I." It knows the deep truth that within the wardrobe of the human condition we all have the same clothing; different garments have different degrees of wear, but all the same clothes are there. (My sincere thanks to FC for the analogy). Humility does not mean that we are not outraged, but it does mean that we look upon the marred image of Christ with great sorrow and great compassion and a desire to help.
Humility does not, first and foremost, ask whether someone is worthy of our assistance. Instead humility always assumes that our assistance is of little worth, but that it may be given to all in need, regardless of whether or not they measure up to some earthly standard. An author, whom, unfortunately I cannot recall, wrote a marvelous passage regarding Dorothy Day. He had gone in to see Ms. Day for an interview or some other function. There were two women in the room into which he was directed. They were very deep into their conversation. One of them was obviously an old derelict, someone who had seen difficult times and who needed a friend to listen to her rants and speeches. The other was Ms. Day. As he stood there, he was gradually noticed and Ms. Day came to greet him. Without a hint of sarcasm or anything other than sincerity she asked him, "Have you come to speak with one of us?" THAT is the profound grace of humility.
And from humility, what peace. We needn't worry about whether we "measure up." While we can't drop out of the rat race we don't need to run it, we can walk it, because getting ahead isn't what life is all about. We are given the freedom to be who we are without regard to comparing ourselves, fitting in, matching up, or excelling. If Mother Teresa had spent all of her time worrying about what Christopher Hitchens (pbuh) had thought of her, she would never have been able to do her charitable work. Had she thought about how she might be viewed by the media, she would never have been able to deliver her stern and profound rebuke at the National Prayer Breakfast.Had John Paul II worried about the secular media's opinion he could not have written Evangelium Vitae or Veritatis Splendor , among others. Humility is the doorway to freedom in Christ because it is the doorway to identity in Christ.