It may be said that humility is the most efficacious remedy for all evil and a most potent antidote to preserve the soul from that death and guilt which leads to everlasting perdition. And yet it is this virtue which we neglect most of all.
O my Soul, God, who Himself desires thine eternal salvation, desires also that thou shouldst acquire it through humility. “And humility goeth before glory” (Prov. 15:33). Therefore, bow down and adore His sovereign Will. When we say the “Our Father,” let us meditate upon that petition, in which we ask that the Will of God may be done, and let us apply that prayer to our own needs: O my God, since Thou desirest that I should be humble, “Thy Wil be done.” Thy Will is done in Heaven by all those blessed spirits who worship Thee with profound humility; may Thy Will be done by me also! “Thy Will be done on earth, as it is in Heaven.”
And in the same way, let us apply the last petition to ourselves also, saying: “And deliver us from evil,” praying God to deliver us and preserve us from pride, which is the worst of all evils, if indeed it may not be called the greatest of all sins. For St. Augustine, inquiring into which sin King David desired most to be delivered from when he said, “I shall be cleansed from the greatest sin,” (Ps. 18:14), answers that this sin was pride, for pride is the greatest of all sins because it is the chief of all sins and the cause and origin of them all: “This I take to be pride, which is the chief and cause of every sin.”
We may say that one of the principal causes of our lack of humility is that we forget too readily the sins we have committed. We only think of our sins when we are preparing for Confession, and even then we only think of our sins in order to sum up their kind and number, in order to make a valid Confession, but we hardly ever stop to consider their gravity, enormity and malice. And even if we do bestow some slight thought on them, it is only in order to flatter ourselves that our sorrow is sufficient for the validity of our Confession; and what is still more amazing is that we are hardly out of the confessional when the remembrance of all our sins vanishes, and even the greatest sinner lives in a state of absolute peace, as if he had always led the most innocent of lives.
O miserable state! We always retain a vivid remembrance of those insults when we receive from our fellow-men, thereby fostering our resentment; but we do not bear in remembrance those insults which we have offered to God, thereby becoming humble and exhorting ourselves to repentance. What wonder that we do not become humble, if we remain oblivious to these urgent motives for humility!
Let us remember our sins, not in order that they should make us overscrupulous, but in order to live in due humility. It is for that same reason that Jeremias the prophet said that he who does not do penance does not practice humility, because “There is none that doth penance for his sin, saying: What have I done?” (Jer. 8:6). If we thought well over this – “What have I done?” What have I done in sinning? What have I done in offending God? Our hearts would certainly be far more contrite and humble. But few think of this.
We call upon the heavens to be astonished at us: “Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this” (Jer. 2:12). If a nobleman is insulted in some public resort by a low-born menial, the offense is considered great, and an adequate punishment is demanded for such an outrage; and yet it is only a man who has been insulted by another man, a worm that is offended by another worm, nothingness offended by nothingness. But that this worm, this nothingness, should insult the Divine Majesty of God apparently causes no dismay. “Be astonished, O ye heavens,” but at least let us be ashamed and humble ourselves for our insensate hardness of heart.
There are two special virtues which the Son of God wished to teach us and recommended us most earnestly to practice – humility and brotherly love. And it is precisely against these two virtues that the devil wages war the most. But it is enough that he should succeed in conquering humility for love to be overcome at the same time, because as St. Augustine says: “You cannot attain to charity except through humility.”
Pride is always ready to take offense, and with this disposition to resent slights and injuries, how is it possible to live in charity? When we find two persons who are prone to disagree and to whom reconciliation is difficult, we cannot be far wrong in concluding that both are full of pride. Therefore, it is obvious that charity cannot exist without humility.
It is for this reason that St. Paul, after having exhorted Christians to brotherly love, advises them at the same time to be humble: “But in humility, let each esteem others better than themselves,” (Phil. 2:3), for well he knew that brotherly love cannot endure without humility. For where pride exists, there will also arise contentions, quarreling and strife: “Among the proud there are always contentions” (Prov. 13:10).
Let us accept the apostolic admonition, and do not let us blame others for their pride when they cause us displeasure, but rather blame ourselves for not knowing how to bear that displeasure with humility. Let us begin by acquiring that patient humility ourselves which we desire so much to see in others, remembering that it is not through the patience and humility of others that we shall be saved, but by our own.
This article is taken from a chapter in Humility of Heart by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo which is available from TAN Books.