Common section

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

UNION WITH CHRIST THROUGH HUMILITY

Abandonment to Divine Providence is but the outward expression of that virtue of humility which is the foundation of the whole spiritual life. We have already referred to humility as that by which the obstacles to the outpourings of God’s goodness are removed, for “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble” (Js 4:6).

If one asks: “How am I to become humble?” the immediate answer is “by the grace of God,” and that is indeed the truth. only the grace of God can give us that insight into our own condition and realization of His exaltation that make for humility. But even though it be a grace, it is a grace with which we must cooperate. The first thing to do is to ask in prayer for the grace of humility, and to ask sincerely. The second thing is to accept humiliations when they come our way; but, let us never forget that there is an enormous difference between being humble and being humiliated. The next thing is to accept as lovingly as we can our own limitations, our own defects, our own lowliness; and even to be resigned—if we cannot be glad—when these shortcomings become known to others. Human nature being what it is, all this is not easy; in fact, without confidence in God, it is morally impossible.

Confidence and humility always go together. One of the reasons why men are so anxious to exalt themselves—to overestimate their own value and their own powers—to resent anything that would tend to lower themselves in their own esteem or in that of others—is because they see no other hope for their happiness save in themselves. That is often why they are so “touchy,” so resentful of criticism, so impatient of opposition, so insistent on getting their own way, so eager to be known, so anxious for praise, so determined on ruling their surroundings. They clutch at themselves like drowning men clutch at a straw. And as life goes on, and they are still far from being satisfied, their attitude borders on the feverish and the hysterical; whatever they may have got, they are certainly far from having found peace.

The attitude of the man who has true Christian humility is just the opposite. His hope is placed in God; he sees no hope in himself. He has not to worry about getting his own way; all that matters is that God should get His way. He knows that the less he has to do with the arranging of things, the more likely is it that things will turn out for the best. He is by no means spineless or inert. On the contrary, let him but once be certain that God wills him to undertake a particular work, and he will tackle it, no matter what it may be, because he knows his sufficiency is from God. He knows his life is a partnership: and whether he acts, or whether he lets God—or even other men—act, he trusts with unshaken confidence in God. And God never refuses to aid him, because such a man is not an enemy of His glory, as is the proud man.

Humility, in fact, is not so much self-depreciation as self-forgetfulness. It is a return to the simplicity of childhood based upon a realization of the fatherhood of God. It is to realize that our sanctification is the work of God, and that we are rather an obstacle to His work than otherwise. It is a realization, and a glad acceptation, of the fact that we have nothing which we have not received. The truly humble never desire to appear before God as workers who have accomplished all their tasks perfectly, and who therefore expect to receive their full wages as their due. Such workers, of course, will receive their just reward; if we appeal to God’s justice, He will be just with us. But which of us dare stand in such confidence before the judgment seat of God and put all our hope in His just retribution? Such an attitude is the height of folly. The wise man closes his eyes to any good he may have done and goes to God as to his Savior, relying on His mercy and upon his own poverty. For that is the claim or title which our Lord recognizes to the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3).

The truth is that we do not understand the value of our own weakness. We want to be conscious of our strength, and we want others to be conscious of it also; we want to do great things—for God, we say—and we want others to know that we have done them: We want to acquire a store of merit and an armory of virtues so that we can feel secure in our own spiritual riches; we want good to be done—but we want to have the doing of it ourselves so that we may be rich in what we think are good works. We forget what the Holy Spirit writes:

There is an inactive man that wanteth help, is very weak in ability, and full of poverty: Yet the eye of God hath looked upon him for good, and hath lifteth him up from his low estate, and hath exalted his head. . . . Trust in God, and stay in thy place. For it is easy in the eyes of God on a sudden to make the poor man rich. The blessing of God maketh haste to reward the just, and in a swift hour his blessing beareth fruit. (Sir 11:12, 13, 22–24)

As Fr. Clerissac said to a friend, “It is our emptiness and thirst that God needs, not our plenitude.”[103] The right attitude is that of St. Paul: “Gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of God may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9). The wise man prefers to be conscious of his own weakness, and even tries, at least, to be glad when others perceive it, for then the glory of his works belongs to God and not to himself; he has no wish to do great things, but rather to love God greatly in doing little things; and since he only seeks to please God, he is indifferent to what others may think of his achievements. He has no regard for any store of merit and virtues he himself may possess because his whole security is placed in his own poverty and in the riches of God’s mercy; and while his zeal for God’s glory keenly desires that good works be done, for it is a matter of indifference to him by whom they are done as long as they are done for God.

There is perhaps no point in which the attitude of the Catholic is—or at least, should be—so opposed to the spirit of the time as in this matter of humility. The whole trend of modern standards is to put all value in personal achievement and self-exaltation. Men live and work for the end that they may think well of themselves and that others may be forced to acknowledge their value and their achievements. The superficially minded are content with applause; whether it be merited or not, whether it come from the discerning or from the easily impressed, does not make much difference to them. Those who have more vision judge themselves by higher standards: They seek the approbation of the competent few and are even indifferent to the applause of the mob. Yet, it does not follow that their pride is any the less on that account. The real value of a man is what he is in the sight of God; no human judgment can affect that.

But in trying to react against this pagan pride that the world preaches, the lay Catholic has to be prudent. There is a difference between the practice of humility in a religious and in a layman. The religious has a poise and a background given to him by the habit he wears and the status of the order to which he belongs. He can be forgetful of himself even in his contact with men, and unconsciously rely upon his membership of a religious organization. He does not have to stand upon his feet, so to speak. The layman is in quite a different position. If he is to defy the trend of the times and stand against the tide of public opinion as he must nowadays, he has need of quite a considerable measure of poise and self-respect, of consciousness of his own worth and of his own importance. This consideration may mean that the practices of humility suggested for a religious are not always suitable for the laity. This is especially true in those countries where Catholicity is despised or where it is only beginning to raise its head after years of persecution. It is true that the proper foundation of such a poise and self-respect is supernatural, but the supernatural does not dispense with the natural, and there is need for considerable prudence in these matters.

There are, however, many ways in which pride can manifest itself which can be avoided even by the layman without any compromise to his status. In speech, pride leads a man to talk of himself and of his own affairs and to seek esteem in various ways. Sometimes it is by open boasting, at other times by a mock modesty that only succeeds in drawing more attention to oneself. Some men are quite adroit in turning the conversation to topics in which they can display their knowledge or ability. The patronizing person is generally a proud person, as also are those given to airs of superiority, to studied phrases or to a magisterial tone. There are those who insist upon maintaining their own opinion, those who cannot let any slip pass without correcting it, those who are only too glad to correct others; all such are generally proud. Contemptuous sarcasm and mordant wit often come from pride, though it is quite surprising to what limits shyness or nervousness can sometimes drive men who are really not proud. The meanest form of self-exaltation is that which seeks itself by decrying others. The proud do not like to hear others praised; they are only too ready to point out the feet of clay in those who are renowned; and, what is perhaps their most characteristic note, they cannot bear contradiction or correction.

However, just as the exterior display of humility does not always mean that one is really humble, so it does not always follow that all such defects are really due to pride. Sometimes it happens, especially in the inexperienced, that there is an inner uncertainty—a feeling of one’s own shortcomings which leads to external extravagances that pass for pride. There is, for example, a boyish boasting that is really due to consciousness of one’s own lack of years. There is a youthful quest of admiration that is often the result of a painful feeling of inferiority. For that reason, as well as for the love of God, we should be reserved in our judgments about one another. The external crust of apparent pride often covers a surprising depth of humility.

In the practice of humility, it is a very sound principle never to display a humility that is not sincere. It is far better and far more humble to let one’s pride appear where there is no danger of scandal than to assume a humility that is not ours. For that reason, the cultivation of humility should commence in the interior. It will be learned by keeping good company, and the best company is that of Jesus and Mary. If we but read the life of our Lord as that of a friend, we cannot help being influenced by His constant example. Frequent meditation on the Passion will bring us more quickly to humility than anything else, and while humility is dependent upon true self-knowledge, such knowledge is better obtained by studying what God is than what we ourselves are. The continual remembrance of God is one of the best ways of ensuring humility, for humility is really reverence for God, and advance in humility means advance in reverence for God. Here again we find that the Christian life is but a continuation of the Mass. In the Mass, we offer sacrifice to assure God that we are nothing and that He is all, to offer Him our adoration and our reverence. If we are sincere in our protestation, we shall maintain that attitude of humility of heart during the rest of the day.

The practice of this humility of heart is capable of many degrees, and the practice of each degree could be realized in many ways. It is not within our scope to draw up a complete program here. In this, as in all such matters, we prefer to suggest an attitude of mind and to leave the manifestation of it to the individual judgment. Where there is real humility of heart, conduct and speech cannot be affected by it. Still, perhaps some examples of the practice of this virtue will help to make the notion of true humility clear.

The avoidance of all those manifestations of pride which we mentioned above, would be sound forms of practical humility. To speak as little of one’s own self or affairs as possible; to mind one’s own business; to avoid curiosity; not to want to manage other people’s affairs; to accept contradiction or correction; not to insist upon one’s own opinion unless truth or justice require it, and then to do so moderately, but with courage; to pass over the mistakes of others, to cover them up, even, where prudent, to accept them (for example, in pronunciation); to yield to the will of others, where neither duty nor charity nor genuine Christian principle is involved; to hide one’s own ability or talents; to avoid ostentation; all such are works of humility that are within the powers of all. One can, however, go further. To accept blame when innocent, to accept insults or injuries, to accept being slighted or forgotten or disliked, not to seek to be specially loved or admired, not to be put out at one’s own clumsiness or mistakes, to be kind and gentle even under provocation, never to stand on one’s dignity save where Christian prudence demands it, to accept correction gladly, to yield in discussion even though one is right, not to be self-opinionated or self-assertive; all these are praiseworthy. But if we remember first that humility is reverence for God, and secondly that it is not only an imitation of Jesus but a perfect way of giving oneself to Him, one may be ready to go still further.

To be glad, for example, at being despised, to thank God when one is humiliated, to rejoice in one’s lowliness, to be patient with one’s own failings, to meet failure with a ready smile, to glory in one’s infirmities; here love is becoming ardent, and union with Jesus is growing more intimate. Insofar as any of the practices mentioned above are only in the exterior, their value is not great; their true value comes from the humility of heart which leads to them. To develop this genuine humility, it is important always to practice humility and its associated virtues in one’s thoughts. Reveries, day-dreaming and castles in the air, for example, designed to exalt oneself will hardly lead to true humility. Brooding over humiliations, over failure, over one’s shortcomings; trying to retrieve one’s mistakes in one’s imaginings, trying to excuse oneself, refusing to admit one’s error, even being dishonest with oneself, putting the blame on somebody else; all these things are contrary to humility. In fact, they could be dangerous and could lead first of all to an entirely false notion of oneself, and even to a “near-neurosis” of some form or other. In passing, it might be no harm to point out that the practice of Christian humility and of its inseparable associate, Christian confidence, based as they are upon the true relations between man and God, is one of the best ways of curing such ills. And it would be well to make it clear that what moderns call an “inferiority complex” is not humility. The former exaggerates one’s defects and morbidly refuses to accept them; humility is truth and a glad acceptation of the truth.

There are other ways in which pride can manifest itself, of which those who seek humility should be at least suspicious. Ambition—especially ambition for showy success—is often the fruit of pride. The desire to control affairs, to be in a position to manage others, to make one’s own will prevail, often comes from that form of pride which has, perhaps, the deepest of roots: the love of one’s own judgment. Even when we yield externally, we are still convinced in our heart that “we knew best.” The man who sees things in a supernatural light is very slow to take responsibility for arranging affairs, even where he has reason to believe that from the merely natural point of view, he is best equipped to form an opinion or to decide. Still, it can be that a humble man may feel it his duty to assert himself, especially when he sees that those who are arranging things have no supernatural outlook, and then he should act with courage, but gently though firmly.

There is another case where humility insists on holding the reins, and that is where God’s will has made a particular man responsible. The father, for example, is head of the family because he is the person responsible. Quite often he has not got the best judgment, and in any event, prudence and love demand that he take counsel with his wife; but the final decision should be his. And he can insist upon it in all humility, for there he has the “grace of state.” This means that where God has made a certain man responsible for deciding, He will see to it that those concerned do not lose by submitting to his decisions, if their motives in submitting are correct. Humility, too, need not prevent Catholics from taking their due share in public life, or from cultivating their professional reputation. What it does demand is that they faithfully ascribe their ability and their success to God and never cease to lean upon His aid. Even in the most extreme case of insistence upon one’s rights, humility of heart must never be absent.

It is, however, in loving our Lord that our humility will fully flower, and it is in being humble that our love will fully flame. For Jesus is not only a tremendous lover, He is also in the best sense of the word a jealous one. He is especially jealous of our independence, even if our independence is only sought for in our thoughts. This divine jealousy is not the same as that prompted by vanity and self-love which one sometimes finds in human love (though not all human jealousy is as petty as that); it is the jealousy of a lover that knows that He—and He alone—can give happiness to His beloved, and who knows that full happiness is impossible except in complete dependence upon Him. After infidelity, there is nothing hurts so much in human love as aggressive self-sufficiency, even when it is found more in external assertion than in interior reality. The mere desire for independence is at least a limitation to one’s love—and where love for Jesus is concerned, there can be no limitations. “Thou shall love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul, with all thy mind and all thy strength.” Thomas à Kempis puts these words on our Lord’s lips:

What more do I ask of thee than to try to give thyself up entirely to Me? Whatever thou givest besides thyself is nothing to Me: I seek not thy gift but thyself! Just as thou couldst not be content without Me, though thou possessest everything else; so nothing thou offerest can please Me unless thou offerest Me thyself! . . . Behold, I offered My whole self to the Father for thee, and have given my whole Body and Blood for thy food: that I might be all thine, and thou mightest be all and always Mine. But if thou wilt stand upon thy own strength, and wilt not offer thyself freely to My will, thy offering is not perfect, nor will there be an entire union between us.[104]

Our humility and obedience are but the exercise of our love and desire for Jesus; they are but means of giving ourself completely to Him, as He does to us in the Mass, and that is what, by our Communion and assistance at Mass, we signify our readiness to do.

For that is the whole spiritual life—a love union with Jesus, in which each of the lovers, the divine and the human, give themselves completely to one another. It is not so much a question of acquisition of virtue, of performing heroic deeds, of amassing merit, of bearing fruit in the Church; these things are excellent, especially insofar as they come from love. But nothing less than our very self in its entirety will satisfy the Heart of Jesus, and all He asks is that we give Him our whole self in all poverty and nothingness. The great way to do that is the way shown by Jesus and by Mary—by love through humility and abandonment.

This way has again been brought to men’s notice in our own times by the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. There can be no doubt that she was raised up by God to show us the true way to holiness. One would hesitate about citing the life of an enclosed contemplative as a model for the laity, were it not for the insistence with which more than one pope has stressed the universality of her message of what is called “spiritual childhood.” Her life really marks a true renaissance in the history of spirituality. Its importance cannot be exaggerated. Let us quote Pope Benedict XV in his discourse regarding the heroicity of her virtues.[105] “There,” he exclaims, referring to spiritual childhood, “lies the secret of holiness . . . for the faithful throughout the entire world. . . .” And he proceeds to give a complete description of this spirituality from which we quote brief passages. Taking as an example the confidence of a child in its mother’s protection and its certainty that she will treat it in the way best suited to its needs, the Holy Father proceeds:

So likewise, is spiritual childhood fostered by confidence in God and trustful abandonment into His hands. . . . Spiritual childhood excludes first the sentiment of pride in oneself, the presumption of expecting to attain by human means a supernatural end, and the deceptive fancy of being self-sufficient in the hour of danger and temptation. On the other hand, it supposes a lively faith in the existence of God, a practical acknowledgment of His power and mercy, confident recourse to Him who grants the grace to avoid all evil and obtain all good. Thus, the qualities of this spiritual childhood are admirable . . . and we understand why our Savior Jesus Christ has laid it down as a necessary condition for gaining eternal life. One day the Savior took a little child from the crowd, and showing him to His disciples, He said: “Amen I say to you; unless you be converted and become as little children you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3). . . .”Who, thinkest thou, is the greater in the kingdom of heaven? . . . Whosoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” And again on another day, Jesus said: “Suffer little children to come to me, and forbid them not; the kingdom of heaven is for such. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child shall not enter into it” (Mk 10:14–15).

The Holy Father continues:

It is important to notice the force of these divine words, for the Son of God did not deem it sufficient to affirm positively that the kingdom of heaven is for children—Talium est enim regnum coelorum—or that he who will become as a little child shall be greater in heaven, but He explicitly threatens exclusion from heaven for those who will not become like unto children. . . . We must conclude then that the Divine Master was particularly anxious that His disciples should see in spiritual childhood the necessary condition for obtaining life eternal.

Considering the insistence and the force of this teaching, it would seem impossible to find a soul who would still neglect to follow the way of confidence and abandonment, all the more so, we repeat, since the divine words, not only in a general manner, but in express terms, declare the mode of life obligatory, even for those who have lost their first innocence. Some prefer to believe that the way of confidence and abandonment is reserved solely for ingenuous souls whom evil has not deprived of the grace of childhood. They do not conceive the possibility of spiritual childhood for those who have lost their first innocence.

And the Holy Father proceeds to show that our Lord’s use of the words “be converted” and “become” indicate that a change is to be made, and that therefore the words apply particularly to those who are no longer innocent. He continues:

Any such thought as that of reassigning the appearance and helplessness of early years would be ridiculous; but it is not contrary to reason to find in the words of the Gospel the precept addressed alike to men of advanced years to return to the practice of spiritual childhood. During the course of centuries, this teaching was to find increased support in the example of those who arrived at heroic Christian perfection precisely by the exercise of these virtues. Holy Church has ever extolled these examples in order to make the Master’s command better understood and more universally followed. Today, again, she has no other end in view when she proclaims as heroic the virtues of Soeur Therese de L’Enfant Jesus.[106]

May we add the words of Pius XI at her canonization:

We today conceive the hope of seeing spring up in the souls of Christ’s faithful a holy eagerness to acquire this evangelical childhood, which consists in feeling and acting under the empire of virtue as a child feels and acts in the natural order. . . . If this way of spiritual childhood became general, who does not see how easily that reform of human society would take place which We set before us in the early days of our pontificate?

Many books have been written to broadcast St. Thérèse’s message. No adequate summary of it can be given here. The reader is referred to her own autobiography, to Msgr. Laveille’s biography of the saint, and to Fr. Petitot’s book, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Since, however, we believe that this is the way of sanctification for most of the laity, we shall quote some passages from Mgr. Laveille’s work,[107] in the hope of inducing the reader to seek further information from the mass of literature already available on the subject.

“God,” he writes, “is a Father, and the burning ardor of His love surpasses all human tenderness.” [He Himself assures that His love is far beyond that of any mother.[108]] . . .

It follows that the surest means of gaining His Heart is to remain or become again a little child in His eyes, that is to say, to recognize our nothingness in His sight, to lay our poverty before Him, to make ourselves truly little in the presence of His Majesty, confiding without fear in His sovereign goodness so that we may move Him to generosity towards us. . . .

This secret appears simple; it contains nothing which can inspire fear in the feeblest Christian heart. It is essential, however, to discern clearly the true signification of the actions enjoined by this method. First, there is the recognition of our incapacity and poverty. But this can be recognized, and at the same time hated, reviled. What is necessary is that we willingly proclaim our nothingness in regard to the greatness of the Almighty. In other words, the surest disposition to draw from the Father in heaven a kindly smile is humility of heart by which we really and truly love to see ourselves as we are and look with joy into the depths of our lowliness. [St. Thérèse explains: “To be little means not attributing to self the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything; it means recognizing that the good God places this treasure of virtue in the hand of His little child to be used by him when he has need of it; but always it is God’s treasure. In fine, it means not being discouraged about our faults, for children fall often, but are too small to do themselves much harm.”]

This disposition is, alas, comparatively rare, even among Christians. The greater number are, indeed, willing to admit their weakness, but only to a certain point. They credit themselves with real personal strength, on which they are content to rely while all goes well, only to fall into discouragement at the first serious obstacle they meet with. They have not understood that the child’s strength lies in its very weakness, since God is inclined to help His creatures in proportion to their recognition and humble avowal of their natural helplessness. . . .

A second characteristic trait of spiritual childhood is poverty. The child possesses nothing of its own; everything belongs to its parents. But is it not precisely this absolute want of all things which moves the father to provide for every necessity, especially if the child is insistent in drawing attention to its excess of misery? When this state of penury has ceased through the child’s growing up and commencing to earn his own livelihood, the father, be he ever so affectionate, discontinues his bounty. [For this reason St. Thérèse never wished to grow up spiritually, “feeling incapable of gaining for myself life eternal, for I have never been able to do anything for myself alone.”]

In the same way, the soul will gain everything by possessing nothing and looking to God for all. She must, however, accustom herself to await the coming of each day for the gifts thereof, asking nothing except what is needed at the present instant, because the grace required is, in God’s designs, an actual grace, to be given at the opportune moment. . . . The poor in spirit, when once in possession of God’s gifts, be they spiritual or corporal, will guard against any proprietorship over them, for they belong always to God, who has simply lent them and is free to take them back as He wills.

Finally, one who chooses the “little way” must be resigned to remaining poor all his life. By this he will imitate the dear saint, who, while multiplying her acts of virtue, did not concern herself with storing up merits for eternity, but labored for Jesus alone, giving over to Him all her good works to purchase souls. St. Thérèse’s own words are full of consolation: “To love Jesus, to be the victim of His love, the more weak and miserable we are, the better disposed are we for the operations of His consuming and transforming love. . . . The sole desire of being a victim suffices; we must, however, be always willing to remain poor and weak. Herein lies the difficulty! . . . Let us love our littleness, let us love to feel nothing. Then shall we be poor in spirit, and Jesus will come to seek us, be we ever so far away. He will transform us into flames of love.”[109]

Besides humility of heart and the spirit of poverty, something more is required. Confidence, unbounded, unwavering confidence in the merciful goodness of the heavenly Father is the infallible means of inclining His Divine Heart to compassion and bounty. With St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse repeated from her heart: “From the good God we obtain all that we hope for.”

The chief practical conclusions from this doctrine is that a soul initiated into this “little way” must confide in the divine mercy regarding past faults, however grave and multiplied they may have been, and that he must look to the same mercy for the pardon of his daily faults. . . . This confidence is necessary in failure; the futility of human actions draws pity from the Divine Heart. It is equally required in darkness and aridity.

In fine, St. Thérèse wished that no bounds should be set to our hopes and desires of attaining to holiness, supporting her words by reference to the merciful omnipotence of “Him who being power and holiness itself would have but to take a soul in His arms and raise it up to Him in order to clothe it with His infinite merits and make it holy.”[110] And asserting more definitely the efficacy of confidence even in arriving at the highest perfection, she does not hesitate to add: “If weak and imperfect souls like mine felt what I feel, not one of them would despair of reaching the summit of the mountain of love.”

This way of humility, of self-forgetfulness, of reliance on God’s own holiness, is the royal road to sanctity—for everybody. The spiritual life is not so much a work of acquiring virtue and merits, as of getting rid of oneself; in fact, it is not so much a getting rid of oneself as a putting on of Christ. No more excellent commentary on St. Paul’s doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ which we outlined in the earlier chapters can be found than the life and teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Every one should study her doctrine, but let us add a word of warning; one must not let the childlike language and manner of the saint hide the fact that she was a woman in whom grace had forged and tempered a will of steel, a woman whose very childlike charm hid sufferings that are beyond all telling. And, if one may judge by the extraordinary honors the Church has showered on her in a few short years, she became one of the greatest saints the Church has known, by a life in which there was nothing extraordinary, in the usual sense of the word. Yet her way is recommended to all by the highest spiritual authority upon earth.

Humility, we repeat, is the royal road to sanctity; but it must be joined to unbounded confidence. We only forget ourselves to remember Christ, of whom we are members, and who loved us and delivered Himself to death for us. Humility is the great way of repairing the fall and failures of the past. There is no shortcoming for which it cannot more than compensate. To which effect we quote the words of a Cistercian Abbot, Blessed Guerric, a disciple of St. Bernard, with a modern Cistercian’s introduction to them:[111]

Humility has a very special property of its own; it not only ensures that the other virtues are really virtues, but, if any one of them is wanting, or is imperfect, humility, using that very deficiency, of itself repairs the deficiency. Therefore, if something seems to be lacking in any soul, it is lacking for no other reason than that the soul should be all the more perfect by its absence, for virtue is made perfect in infirmity. Paul, saith the Lord, my grace is sufficient for thee (2 Cor 12:9). He for whom the grace of God is sufficient, can be lacking in some particular grace, not only without serious loss, but even with no small gain, for that very defect and infirmity perfects virtue; and the very diminution of a certain grace only makes the greatest of all God’s graces—namely, humility—present in a fuller measure and more stable way. Far, then, O Lord, from thy servants let that grace be—whatever it may be—which can take away or lessen our grace in thy eyes (gratiamtui), by which, namely, although more pleasing in our own eyes, we become more hateful in Thine. That is not grace, but wrath, for it is only fully fit to be given to those with whom Thou art angry; in whose regard Thou hast disposed such things, and that because of their simulation, thrusting them down at the very moment of their elevation and rightly crushing them even while they are raised on high. In order, therefore, that that grace alone, without which no one is loved by Thee, should remain safe in our possession, let Thy grace and favor either take away all other grace from us, or else give us the grace of using all properly; so that having the grace by which we serve Thee pleasingly with fear and reverence, we may earn the favor of the giver through the grace of the gift, and that growing in grace, we may be truly more pleasing to Thee.

To sum up a long chapter let us repeat again with St. Paul, “Gladly will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor 12:9), and let us be convinced that no matter what we have lost, what we have mined, or how far we have wandered into the wilderness from the right path, God can give us back all we have lost or damaged. God can show us a road—or, if necessary, build a new road for us—that leads from our present position, whatever it may be, to the heights of sanctity; humility is the Philosopher’s Stone which changes all our losses into the gold of God’s favor. He can do all for us, and He will do all if we cooperate with this grace. What then does He ask of us? Nothing but blind faith, confident hope, ardent love, cheerful humility, and loving abandonment into the arms of our tremendous lover!

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!