The Virtue of Humility: Part I

Written By Conor Gallagher

“In Paradise there are many Saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no Saint who was not humble.”

This is the opening paragraph to the greatest book I have ever read: Humility of Heart by Father Cajetan Mary da Bergamo (1672–1753). If you read but one book outside Holy Scripture, if you can convince your grown child to read but one book in his or her life, I recommend it be this one amidst the tens of thousands of great Catholic works penned over two thousand years.

How can one make such a claim? Because, truly, humility is the root of all virtue and pride is the root of all sin. Without humility, you cannot be devoted to Our Lord, you cannot be a loving spouse or loving parent; you cannot be a true friend. You, Christian Reader, are nothing without the virtue of humility.

What will God call your little girl to be? A mother of ten? An astronaut? A scientist that cures cancer? A cloistered nun? You do not know.

And what will he call your little son to be? A Navy Seal? A small business entrepreneur? A professor? A parish priest? You do not know.

But you do know with absolute certainty that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity is directly calling your son or daughter to “learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). Father Cajetan explains:

“He has not called everyone to be doctors, preachers or priests, nor has He bestowed on all the gift of restoring sight to the blind, healing the sick, raising the dead or casting out devils, but to all He has said: ‘Learn of Me, to be humble of heart,’ and to all He has given the power to learn humility of Him. . . . The Savior might have said: ‘Learn of Me to be chaste, humble, prudent, just wise, abstemious, etc.'”

But He only says: “Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.” (Matt. 11:29). And in humility alone He includes all things, because as St. Thomas so truly says, “Acquired humility is in a certain sense the greatest good.” Therefore whoever possesses this virtue may be said, as to his proximate disposition, to possess all virtues, and he who lacks it, lacks all.[1]

Dear Parent, you walk a fine line—seemingly—between teaching your child humility and developing a strong self-esteem. The world has never, nor ever will, esteem humility. Just look around: everything is geared towards vanity, self-promotion, and self-indulgence. Truly, your child is growing up in unprecedented times of vanity.

What is important to understand, however, is that true self-esteem comes from humility. Humility is, rather simply put, the proper knowledge of self in relation to God. How on earth could you not want your son or daughter to know where they stand in relation to God?

Scripture repeatedly tells you that you are nothing before God. In fact, the trial of Job was all about him learning to not even question God but to humbly accept whatever God sent his way.

There is nothing more freeing for your child than to know that Almighty God is infinitely greater, more powerful, more knowledgeable than he or she ever will be. This does not destroy the child’s confidence. No! It gives him a greater sense of security, of purpose, and of placement in the universe.

And so, as a parent, you must raise your child to see all things from the standpoint of pride and humility. True, your child naturally gravitates towards certain vices: gluttony, anger, sloth . . . But you must creatively and insightfully show your son or daughter that these sins are rooted in pride.

If your daughter struggles with gluttony, it is because she believes she has the right to indulge to make herself feel better rather than humbly turning to God in her distress! If your son struggles with anger, it is because he feels himself superior to those who cross him rather than humbly and patiently enduring the injustice. No matter the sin, identify and articulate the prideful root of that particular vice. Train your child’s mind to always sniff out the pride.

In like manner, when you witness virtue in your child’s life or the life of others, intentionally point out the beauty of humility present therein. For example, if your middle schooler son offers the front seat to a younger sibling, instead of saying, “That was kind of you,” consider occasionally saying, “That was humble of you.”

You might get a double look; it will catch your child off guard. He was not trying, per se, to be humble, but kind. If your teenager agrees to frequently set aside the smart phone, instead of saying, “Proud of you! That takes self-discipline,” try saying, “Proud of you! That takes a hefty dose of humility.” It is your responsibility to teach your children, of all ages, that humility is the foundation of their good behavior. They must learn to see the spiritual life through such a lens.

Humility is everything. And a saint learns how to view all thoughts, words, and actions as either acts of pride or acts of humility, for truly, every thought, word, and action is taking us closer to God or further from Him.


[1] Cajetan Mary da Bergamo, Humility of Heart, pp. 2–3.

This article is taken from a chapter in Parenting for Eternity by Conor Gallagher which is available from TAN Books.

Conor Gallagher is CEO of TAN Books. He is author of various books and is a proud husband and father of fifteen children. His subjects of interest include family life, philosophy, the spiritual life and spiritual direction.  His graduate degrees are from the Catholic University of America.