Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (Lk. 18.9-14)
Meekness is the fruit of Christian humility; and Jesus Christ joins these two virtues together, Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart..., because one depends upon the other. Every man who is really humble of heart is meek; and whoever fails in meekness is wanting also in humility, which is the principle of meekness.
It is a strange thing that our Lord Jesus Christ does not tell us to learn by His example to be meek and humble of heart, but to learn that He is humble of heart. And why is this? Is it then a virtue which His example cannot teach us? Yes: we cannot be humble in the same manner that Jesus Christ was humble. If humility consists in abasing ourselves lower than we are, it is Jesus Christ alone Who could be truly humble. He Who, being of the nature of God, was made man, and took upon Himself everything that is vile and contemptible in the sight of men, He alone was truly humble, because He united Himself to a nature infinitely inferior to His own; He was humble, because in this nature which He assumed to Himself He submitted to all the humiliations which are due to a proud sinner who deserves to be the outcast of God and man. He was humble of heart, because His humility was a humility of choice, a sincere humility, accompanied by all those interior sentiments which befit the state of a voluntary victim for sin. It is therefore impossible for us to be humble in the same way that Jesus Christ was. As we are nothing from the very beginning, how can we make ourselves any less, or place ourselves below what we are by nature? Sinners by our own free will, deserving of the curse of God and of the punishments of hell, worthy only of contempt and horror, and thus infinitely below nothing, to what a state could we be further reduced which might pass for a state of humility? When we place ourselves on the level of nothing, we are only doing ourselves simple justice, even if we had never been guilty of any sin. And when we consent to be treated by God and all creatures as a sinner deserves to be treated, still we only do ourselves simple justice, even if we had only committed one mortal sin. How then shall we humble ourselves, how shall we lower ourselves, we who have been guilty of a host of mortal sins ? Let us confess, once for all, that we are so low that it is impossible for us to descend lower. Let us confess that, in the natural order and the supernatural order, in this life and in the life to come, there is no confusion, no contempt, no ignominy, which is not less than we deserve. And even when we have acknowledged all this in the sincerity of our hearts, when we have submitted to all the humiliations which a guilty creature deserves, when we have fully recognised that we do only deserve these humiliations, we are still obliged to confess that to bear all this is not humility on our part, but simply the acceptation of a most just chastisement.
If this is true, if nothing is more evident in the very principles of faith, where are we, and what is our pride, when we cannot suffer either from God or men the slightest shadow of contempt or the least apparent neglect? The very idea of contempt disgusts us, troubles us, and makes us angry; we cannot persuade ourselves that when we are despised it is just what we deserve, and that it is impossible for us to be despised too much. We avoid with the greatest care everything that could make us lose the false esteem of men; we sacrifice our duties, our Divine inspirations, the most vivid and certain teachings of our conscience, through a fear of ridicule or of a false and contemptible opinion which others may have of us. It seems to us the most painful effort of virtue to appear in the eyes of the world as we really are in the eyes of God, and we are not capable of this effort ; and in a thousand occasions we break our promises, and are false to our good resolutions. Again we say, what pride! And even if we were ashamed of this pride, if we humbled ourselves when we reflected on it! But no; we take credit to ourselves for it ; we think we have very noble and elevated sentiments; we treat as mean and foolish and extravagant the esteem which the saints have had of humiliations, and the holy eagerness with which they have embraced them.
If we were really humble with the humility which is fitting for us, we should make no account, either in ourselves or in others, of good birth, or of intellect, or of beauty, or of riches, or of any other natural gifts; we should never make of any of these things an occasion for thinking more highly of ourselves or for despising others who do not possess them. For all these advantages do not really belong to us, to us who are only nothingness : God has given them to us out of pure liberality, and His intention never was that we should be vain of them. More than this, these advantages are of no use in themselves for our salvation. And if we make a bad use of them, they are only for us so many occasions of sin. We have then no reason to think well of ourselves on account of them; on the contrary, we have every reason to humble ourselves. If we were humble with the humility which is fitting for us, we should think ourselves unworthy of the esteem of men, and we should refer to God alone all their praises, without reserving anything for ourselves, considering that as a theft from His Divine glory. Neither should we fear their contempt, knowing that we deserve it, inasmuch as we are great sinners. We should even be very glad to be despised, hoping by it to be able to satisfy the Divine justice. Undoubtedly we must not do anything which really deserves blame, but we must not take too many precautions to escape the judgments of men; and when our good actions draw upon us calumnies, and ridicule, and contempt on their part, we ought to rejoice for ourselves, and to pity them.
If we were humble with the humility which befits us, we should serve God thinking less of our own interest than of His, convinced that we deserve nothing, and that it is an excess of goodness on His part to allow of our serving Him at ail. We should receive all His graces with gratitude ; and far from appropriating them to ourselves, or priding ourselves on them, they would only serve to humble us still more by the thought of our own unworthiness, and we should refer them all to God with the same purity as they came from Him to us. We should not be at all surprised or distressed if He seems to repel us, or if He seems to pay no attention to what we are doing for Him ; we should not expect Him to set any value on our fidelity, our constancy, or our generosity; we should never be jealous of the favours He may show to others, but we should think, like the poor woman of Canaan, that the children's bread is not for dogs, and that we are too happy if we may pick up the crumbs which fall from their table. If God turns His face from us, or if He looks at us severely and seems to be angry with us, if He makes us experience some of the effects of His justice, we should humbly submit ourselves to Him, saying with the prophet, I will bear the weight of the anger of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him. It is quite right that, as I am a sinner, I should satisfy the Divine justice; I ought not to wish to dispute the right of God to punish me.
Thus the humble soul sees nothing that she does not deserve in the hardest treatment that she may have to bear, either from God or men. All she asks for is for strength to bear it, and that God may derive glory from it. As for herself, she consents with all her heart to be destroyed utterly, and she does not consider what happens to her as a trial, but rather as a just chastisement, too slight in comparison with what her sins deserve. Acquiescing with all that God makes her suffer, she finds her peace, her strength, and her happiness in humility; she is delighted that God should be satisfied, and that at the expense of all that she has He should receive what is due to His Divine justice.
But how shall we attain to this humility ? By resigning ourselves entirely to God and leaving all our interests in His hands. We can give ourselves. And when this gift is made entirely and irrevocably, God will accomplish His designs upon us, and will give us all that is necessary for us to co-operate with Him. He will give us above all things that perfect humility which is so deep, so generous, so peaceful, so unchanging, which on the one hand makes us, as sinners, less than nothing, and on the other hand, raises us above the world, above the devil, above ourselves, and makes us great with the greatness of God, strong with the strength of God, holy with the holiness of God. This humility is an infused humility; it grows in us in proportion to our temptations, our sufferings, and our humiliations. We have it, but we do not know that we have it, because if we thought ourselves humble we should think we were lower than we deserve to be; whereas such a thought could never enter the mind of a saint, who on the contrary is always quite certain that God and men treat him infinitely better than he deserves to be treated.