The Most Forgotten in the Spiritual Life
Today’s Christians and companions of the spiritual life are said to have missed several opportunities in life as a result of the issues of devaluation and erosion of traditional values or put differently, we have forgotten the core value or virtue that inspires us to do things for God, other people, ourselves and the environment. What are we talking about? Humility! Humility is from the Latin word Humus and it means “ground or soil.” Note, not just any ground or soil but the richest ground or soil called compost, the soil that assist growth. So, applying humility to our spiritual life, it is the spiritual dirt that allows internal growth or the inner life to flourish. This is so because through humility we realise ourselves and we get to the core truth of our being and existence. We realise that we are nothing because from dust we came and we shall return.
No wonder, St. Augustine says, “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues; therefore, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance only. In like manner, it is so necessary to perfection, that of all the ways to reach it, the first is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility. And if the question were repeated a hundred times, I should always give the same answer.” And St. Bernard adds “Humility is necessary not only for the acquisition of virtues, but even for salvation. For the gate of Heaven, as Christ Himself testifies, is so narrow that it admits only little ones.” St. Vincent de Paul says, “The most powerful weapon to conquer the devil is humility. For, as he does not know at all how to employ it, neither does he know how to defend himself from it.”
Our readings for the Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C, speak about the virtue of humility and its gains in the spiritual life. However, from psycho-spiritual findings, the most forgotten or neglected virtue in the spiritual life is humility. Two main reasons may have led to the present psycho-spiritual reality. First, many of us are struggling to apply what psychologists call “the humility paradox.” The humility paradox states that humble people do not say they are humble and if they do, they cease to be humble. So, consciously or unconsciously we strive to live out the humility paradox and we end up forgetting to nurture the little degree of humility in us.
On the other hand, nowadays, we speak more of self-concept, self-esteem, self-promotion, self-care and self-confidence without integrating humility. We argue for the “self” from different perspectives and forget that the self in itself can never grow or realise itself, meaning and purpose except humility is at work. To this end, I am sorry to say that what is so much celebrated and promoted today is arrogance and full blown pride. You hear people say, “Do you know who I am?” You hear people bragging or boasting for what they have achieved and done for people especially the poor. Let me remind you that there is a saying in the spiritual life: “Nobody gets to Heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” The height of our Christian life is love and judgement is going to be based on it (Matt. 25:31-46). Do not forget that there are seven deadly spiritual imperfections of beginners and old companions in the spiritual life and pride is the first but its opposite is HUMILITY.
Again, it is the challenge of humility that led one of those stars (Lucifer) in Heaven to be thrown out and he is busy prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Please stand up to him strong in the faith by rediscovering and embracing humility (1Pet. 5:8-9). According to St. Vincent de Paul, we can stand up and live a humble life by fulfilling the following three conditions: first by considering ourselves in all sincerity, worthy of contempt for men; second, to be glad that others should see what is imperfect in us what might cause them to despise us and third, when the Lord works any good in us or by us we do not take the glory. For instance, when we do something good and we are appreciated, we return the glory to God by saying “Thanks be to God or Thank God” instead of “My pleasure” or “You are welcome.”
Apart from our relationship with God, other indices of humility are the shift from our ego to egolessness as we cease to dominate conversations, refuse to trumpet our successes, achievements, power and remain anonymous; the awareness of our limitations and our efforts to rediscover our strengths; a progression from external discipline to inner conviction; listening to the word of God and acting accordingly without arguments and rationalization of our weaknesses; the quest for knowledge of self, the capacity and readiness to confront the demons or dark side of our unconscious mind (Matt. 15:10-20), the recognition of the complexity of the moral life, and moderation in doing all things.
Humility is “the simple acknowledgment that in the greater scheme of things, we exist in proportionate importance to everything and everyone else.” The saints who are the practical doctrine of our faith are who they are today because they cultivated and practised humility. We have an invitation today to reclaim humility and enjoy as Children of God. Listen to the Word of God:
“My child, conduct your affairs with humility,
and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts” (Sir 3:17).
“For every one who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11).
- Do you view humility as a virtue to cultivate and practise?
- What is preventing you from identifying your mark of humility within the order of creation?
- For you is powerlessness positive or negative?
- How blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:3
Rev. Fr. John-Mary Ntol Atep