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If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. (St. John, c. VIII, v. 54.)
For behold I was born in iniquities: and in sins did my mother conceive me. (Psalm L., v. 7.)
1. Few persons have a correct idea of this virtue. It is frequently confused with servility or littleness.
2. To attribute to God what is God’s, that is to say everything that is good, and to ourselves what is ours, that is to say, everything that is evil: these are the essential characteristics of true humility.
*Hence it would appear at first sight that simple good sense ought to suffice to make men humble. Such would be the case were it not that our faculties have been impaired and vitiated in their very source by pride, that direful and ineffaceable consequence of original sin. The first man, a creature owing 94 his existence directly to God, was bound to dedicate it entirely to Him and to pay continual homage for it is as for all the other gifts he had received. This was a duty of simple justice. The day whereon he asserted a desire to be independent, he caused an utter derangement in the relations of the creature with his Creator. Pride, that tendency to self-sufficiency, to refer to self the use of the faculties received from God—pride, introduced into the soul of the first man by a free act of his will, has attached itself as an indelible stigma to the souls of all his descendants, and has become forevermore a part of their nature. Thence comes this inclination, ever springing up afresh, to be independent, to be something of ourselves, to desire for ourselves esteem, affection and honor, despite the precepts of the divine law, the claims of justice and the warnings of reason; and thus it is that the whole spiritual life is but one long and painful conflict against this vicious propensity. Divine grace though sustaining us in the combat never gives us a complete victory, for the struggle must endure until death,—the closing chastisement of our original degradation and the only one that can obliterate the last 95 traces thereof. (See Imitation, B. III., Ch. XIII.—XXII.)*
3. As God drew from nothingness everything that exists, in like manner does He wish to lay the foundations of our spiritual perfection upon the knowledge of our nothingness. Saint Bonaventure used to say: Provided God be all, what matters it that I am nothing!
4. When a Christian who is truly humble commits a fault he repents but is not disquieted, because he is not surprised that what is naught but misery, weakness and corruption, should be miserable, weak and corrupt. He thanks God on the contrary that his fall has not been more serious. Thus Saint Catherine of Genoa, whenever she found she had been guilty of some imperfection, would calmly exclaim: Another weed from my garden! This peaceful contemplation of our sinfulness was considered very important by Saint Francis de Sales also, for he says: “Let us learn to bear with our imperfections if we wish to attain perfection, for this practice nourishes the virtue of humility.”
5. Some persons have the erroneous idea that in order to be humble they must not recognize in themselves any virtue or talent 96 whatsoever. The reverse is the case according to Saint Thomas, for he says it is necessary to realize the gifts we have received that we may return thanks for them to Him from whom we hold them. To ignore them is to fail in gratitude towards God, and to neglect the object for which He gave them to us. All that we have to do is to avoid the folly of taking glory to ourselves because of them. Mules, asses and donkeys may be laden with gold and perfumes and yet be none the less dull and stupid animals. The graces we have received, far from giving us any personal claims, only serve to increase our debt to Him who is their source and their donor.
6. Praise is naturally more pleasing to us than censure. There is nothing sinful in this preference, for it springs from an instinct of our human nature of which we cannot entirely divest ourselves. Only the praise must be always referred to Him to whom it is due, that is to say, to God; for they are His gifts that are praised in us as we are but their bearers and custodians and shall one day have to render Him an account for them in accordance with their value.97
7. The soul that is most humble will also have the greatest courage and the most generous confidence in God; the more it distrusts itself, the more it will trust in Him on whom it relies for all its strength, saying with Saint Paul: I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.1111St. Paul to the Philippians, IV., 13. Saint Thomas clearly proves that true Christian humility, far from debasing the soul, is the principle of everything that is really noble and generous. He who refuses the work to which God calls him because of the honor and éclat that accompany it, is not humble but mistrustful and pusillanimous. We shall find in obedience light to show us with certainty that to which we are called and to preserve us from the illusions of self-love and of our natural inclinations.
“We should be actuated by a generous and noble humility, a humility that does nothing in order to be praised and omits nothing that ought to be done through fear of being praised.”—Saint Francis de Sales.
8. It is even good and sometimes necessary to make known the gifts we have received 98 from God and the good works of which divine grace has made us the instruments, when this manifestation can conduce to the glory of His name, the welfare of the Church, or the edification of the faithful. It was for this threefold object that Saint Paul spoke of his apostolic labors and supernatural revelations.99
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