The Meaning, Message and Invitation of Humility
True humility is thoroughgoing poverty of both heart and mind
In the words of St. Augustine: "If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless."
HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA (Catholic Online) -Newly elected Pope Francis is being hailed as a potential modern saint whose concern for the poor is mirrored in his humility and simple lifestyle. As archbishop of Buenos Aires, he refused to live in the bishop's residence, opting instead to live in a simple apartment, cook his own meals, and take public transportation. As pope he intends to continue this same legacy. The path he has set forth for both himself and the church can be summed in his initial statement "This is what I want, a poor church for the poor."
Today we are living, morally, in what some have called a crisis of faith. This has been due, in no small measure, to the rapid advancement and influence of secularization and moral relativism which has permeated modern society. In order to reverse this trend a certain rediscovery of essential virtues like humility is necessary for mankind.
The Meaning of Humility
The word humility signifies lowliness or submissiveness and it is derived from the Latin humilitas or, as St. Thomas says, from humus, i.e. the earth which is beneath us. St. Bernard defines the moral virtue of humility as the "virtue whereby man, through a true knowledge of himself, becomes despicable in his own eyes."
Humility is rooted in truth and justice. Truth causes us to know ourselves as we truly are: that which is good in us belongs to God and that which is evil proceeds from ourselves. Justice inclines us to act upon this knowledge and to praise God for his many gifts and graces.
We all enter this world tainted, wounded, by original sin. Due to concupiscence we habitually fall into sin and are continually in need of God's mercy. We, therefore, must learn to love humiliations and accept all reproaches. Being nothing of ourselves we must love oblivion and self-effacement: to be unknown, to be reckoned as nothing. As sinners we deserve every kind of humiliation.
To practice humility one must first begin by waging war against pride since it is pride that constitutes the primal evil in our souls. Remedies against pride include the acknowledgment that God is the Author of all good, and that to Him belongs all honor and glory.
With this in mind we must strive to attain the humble dispositions of the soul of Christ who "being in the form of God, did not deem to be equal with God, but emptied Himself"(Phil. 2: 6-7). Humility implies this express act of self-humiliation, a voluntary descent beneath our legitimate natural dignity, an act of reducing ourselves to naught before God. It implies the gesture of a permanent inner dying of the self, in order that Christ may live in us - a gesture that has found its unique expression in the figure of St. John the Baptist and in his words: "He must increase, but I must decrease" (John. 3:30).
The Humility of Christ
Our Lord gave us many examples of humility upon which we can meditate and strive to imitate.
During His hidden life He practiced humility primarily through self-effacement. Before His birth He hid Himself for nine months in the virginal womb of Mary where He submitted Himself to Caesar's edict and suffering without complaint the rude refusal of His mother to stay at the inn.
At His birth the Son of God appeared as a poor infant. Following His Birth He was circumcised and then obliged to flee into Egypt in order to escape the persecution of Herod. Later at Nazareth he submitted Himself for thirty years in obedience to His parents where He was known only as the carpenter's son. He hid Himself in the most complete obscurity in order to merit for us the grace that would enable us to sanctify our most commonplace actions and inspire within us a love of humility.
Throughout the course of His public life Jesus practiced humility by proclaiming in both word and deed that He was the Son of God. He did this in a discreet manner and without forcing assent. He surrounded Himself with Apostles that were, in the eyes of many, ignorant and of little esteem. He lived by alms and showed a marked preference for those in particular whom the world often despises such as the poor, sinners, and the sick.
His teaching was simple and direct. He often used parables that were taken from ordinary life with the aim, not of winning the admiration of men, but of instructing and touching their hearts. His miracles were rare and He often charged his beneficiaries not to speak of them.
Jesus's abject humility is demonstrated in His Passion. Betrayed by Judas and deserted by His Apostles he did not cease to love them. At His arrest He healed Malchus who was wounded by Peter. He suffered the affronts of the crowd to which he was delivered in silence. He answered ...
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