How To Grow In Humility
What is the key to the Lord's own heart and the foundation of all holiness and every other virtue? It’s humility. When we empty ourselves of ourself, the Lord can then pour His own life into us.
What does it mean to be humble? Being humble is the simple acknowledgment that He is the Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who shines forth in glory. Any good, truth, beauty and love in us is a reflection of His glory.
When we are full of ourselves, Jesus cannot get very close. If we empty ourselves, the Lord can pour His own life into us.
The great thing about growing in humility is that we don’t even have to look for opportunities. Jesus wants us so desperately to gain humility that he sends us all sorts of occasions to say thank you, go to Confession, not interrupt, do the menial task, and rejoice when someone else is recognized.
Monsignor’s Homily Notes
About 170 years ago, a Scottish surgeon named Sir James Simpson made an important discovery. In 1847, Dr. Simpson was conducting experiments with chloroform. He realized that by using chloroform, doctors could perform operations without causing pain to their patients. His discovery revolutionized modern medicine. Toward the end of his life, Simpson was lecturing at the University of Edinburgh. One of the students asked him what he considered his most valuable discovery. The students expected him to recount how he came upon the medical use of chloroform. To their surprise, Dr. Simpson replied, “My most valuable discovery was when I discovered myself a sinner and that Jesus Christ was my Savior.”
Dr. James Simpson exemplifies the virtue of humility, the most important virtue, quality that we can have. It is beautiful when a great man humbles himself. The Lord tells us in Sirach, “My child, conduct your affairs with humility” (Sir. 3:17). Humility is from the Latin word humus, meaning “dirt”. Humility is the simple acknowledgement of who we are and who the Lord is. He is God and we are not God, but formed by Him from the dust of the earth into which He breathed His ruah, His breath, the breath of life. Humility is the simple acknowledgment that He is the Almighty God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who shines forth in glory. He is the source of all truth, all good, all beauty and all love. Any good, truth, beauty and love in our lives is a reflection of His glory. We are not God but His beloved, little creatures. We are dust and unto dust we shall return. And we are called by Jesus Himself to share in His divine life.
Lucifer, or Satan, is the opposite of humility - pride. God created Lucifer to be the light bearer, but Lucifer would not accept that he was not God and so he rebelled with about 1/3 of the angels, and became the demons, angels corrupted by pride. In fact, there is a theory about why Lucifer rebelled. The Trinity revealed to the angels before the Creation of the world that the material world would be created and that God the Son would become incarnate as man. In other words, this revelation to the angels revealed the utter humility of God, that He would stoop so low as to become man. Lucifer objected: “I will not bow to flesh.” The opposite of humility is pride, the pride of selfishness and narcissism. We heard from Msgr. O’Connor about a month ago of the two primary traits of a narcissist: the inability to say I’m sorry and the inability to say thank you. Satan cannot look up, he cannot kneel.
Humility means to see ourselves as the Lord sees us. To be humble doesn’t mean that we think that we’re losers. Humility is not self-hatred but self-forgetfulness. C.S. Lewis put it this way: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility is looking upon others and ourselves as God does. Humility means emptying ourselves of ourself to make room for others, first for God and then those around me.
When we are humble, the Lord can draw close to us precisely because we are not full of ourselves. When we are full of ourselves, Jesus cannot get very close. If we have been emptied of ourselves, the Lord can pour His own life into us. What is attractive about humility is that Jesus shows us that He is humble, emptying Himself of His glory and taking the form of a slave, obedient even unto death, death on a cross (Phil. 5:1-11). He even tells us, “Take my yoke and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt. 11:29). Humility is the key to the Lord’s own heart; it is the being and foundation of all holiness and every virtue.
Someone once asked St. Bernard of Clairvaux what the three most important virtues are. He famously replied, “Humility, humility and humility.”
Humility is not easy to come by because we have been damaged by original sin; we are infected by concupiscence and this condition gives us a trend toward pride and narcissim. A priest I know said that a woman told him, “Father, I want to be a humble wife, but it is hard. The problem is I am always right and he is always wrong.” Examples of lack of humility: I’m always right; we have to do it my way; I have to have things a certain way; being “high maintenance”; not accepting legitimate authority; I know better than the Church’s teaching; I don’t have to go to Mass; I know better than God; gossiping about others.
From St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, gives 17 examples of a lack of humility. I’ll just mention a few of them: Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say; Always wanting to get your own way; Arguing when you are not right or, when you are, insisting stubbornly or with bad manners; Despising the point of view of others; Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation; Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you; Making excuses when you are corrected; Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you; Refusing to carry out menial tasks;
The great thing about growing in humility is that we don’t even have to look for opportunities. The day is already filled with them. Jesus wants us so desperately to gain humility that he sends us all sorts of occasions. Mother Teresa expressed it this way, “Sometimes we have to undergo many humiliations to learn a little humility.” How to grow in humility: Say I’m sorry; Say thank you; I will serve; go to Confession; ask people questions in conversation so that the attention stays off of you; don’t interrupt when someone else is talking; do the menial task that no one else wants to do and do it with a smile; Rejoice when someone else is recognized; Prayer: You are my God, I am not God; I will follow. Children: help with chores without being asked, allowing brother or sister to have his or her way,
So how do we seek it? St. John Chrysostom writes, “If you wish to take precedence and to have the highest honors, aim for whatever is lowest and worst: to be the most insignificant and humble of all, of less account than anyone else; to put yourselves after the others” (Journey). If we pay attention, we notice with St. Augustine that, “There is something in humility that strangely exalts the heart” (St. Augustine; Chervin). Our heart is exalted because humility allows Almighty God to fill us with His glory and to raise us up to Himself.
Our strength to be humble comes from God Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. There we see the utter humility of God and He makes Himself present. He’s so humble that it’s easy to walk right on by. We have been called to this place to be ravished by the Bridegroom Jesus at His banquet. Here He pours out His riches. He is the One who made Himself poor so that we could be rich. He is the one who took the lowest place, not at the table, but the lowest place of the Cross and His descent among the dead. There is no lower place He could have gone. Now He is here offering us His riches: the Word about to be made flesh. He is moving to act on us.
The banquet is now. Who are we to think of ourselves and our petty glory when we stand before such divine glory? The Eucharist is the revelation of the utter humility of God who is willing to debase Himself out of love for us. How can we not be moved by His humility to strive after that essential virtue that is the key to the Lord’s heart and distinguishes us from the devil? Our nothingness, littleness, powerlessness and weakness is not something to hate or to try to hide, but the seedbed for humility. Out of the humus of ourselves can grow the true, eternal life of holiness, Godlikeness.
Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. “My most valuable discovery was when I discovered myself a sinner and that Jesus Christ was my Savior.”