St. Alphonsus on humility February 17, 2014Posted by tantamergo in awesomeness, Basics, episcopate, General Catholic, Glory, Grace, Interior Life, manhood, Saints, sanctity, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.
The great St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori on humility, from his book Preparation for Death, Ascetical Works Vol. 1. You will probably find this reading hard. The practice of true humility requires a tremendous degree of self-abnegation. But it is perhaps a good spiritual meditation for this season of Septuagesima in preparation for Lent.
No one can please God without being humble, for he cannot bear the proud. He has promised to hear those who pray to him; but if a proud man prays to him, the Lord hears him not; to the humble, on the contrary, He dispenses His Graces: God resisteth the proud, and giveth Grace to the humble (Jm IV:6). Humility is of two kinds: humility of affection, and humility of will. The former consists in the conviction we have of our own wretchedness, so that we can neither know nor do anything but what is evil. All that we have and do that is good comes from God. Let us come now to the practice of humility. With regard, then, to the humility of the affections, first, we must put no confidence in our own strength, nor in our own resolutions; but we must be always diffident and fearful of ourselves. With fear and trembling work out your salvation (Phil II:12). St. Phillip Neri said: “He who fears not is sure to fail.”
Secondly, we must not glory in things that belong to us, as in our natural abilities, in our actions, in our birth, in our relatives and the like. It is therefore never well to speak of our actions, except to point out where we have been wrong. And it is better not to speak of ourselves at all, either, for good or bad; because even when we blame ourselves, it is often an occasion of vain-glory by making us think that we shall be praised, or, at least be considered humble, and thus humility becomes pride. Thirdly, let us not be angry with ourselves after we have failed. That would not be humility, but pride; and it is even a device of the devil to take away all our confidence, and make us leave off following a good life. When we see that we have fallen, we should say with St. Catherine of Genoa: “Lord, these are the fruits of my own garden.” Then let us humble ourselves, and rise up immediately from the fault we have committed by an act of love and contrition, resolving not to fall into the same fault again, and trusting in the help of God. And if we unhappily do fall again, we must always do the same. Fourthly, when we see others fall, we are not to wonder; rather let us compassionate them; and let us thank God, praying Him to keep His Hand over us; otherwise, the Lord will punish us by permitting us to fall into the same sins, and perhaps worse [One quick note: there is a huge difference between someone striving to be pious and failing, and those huge masses of people who deliberately, consciously reject aspects of the Faith. Those who publicly proclaim error must be rebuked.] Fifthly, we must always consider ourselves as the greatest sinners in the world; even when we know that others have sinned more than we; because our sins having been committed after we had received so many graces, will be more displeasing to God than the faults of others, though they may be more numerous. St. Teresa writes that we must not think we have made any progress in the way of perfection if we do not esteem ourselves worse than every one else, and desire to be considered the last of all. [Teresian-Carmelite spirituality is hard. St. Therese of Lisieux viewed it somewhat differently, with a more child-like trust in God while maintaining a proper sense of unworthiness.]
The humility of the will consists in being pleased when we are despised by others. Anyone who has deserved hell, deserves to be trodden under foot by the devils, forever. Jesus Christ desires that we should learn of Him to be meek and humble of heart (Matt XI:29). Many are humble in word, but not in heart. They say: “I am worse than all: I deserve a thousand hells.” But when anyone reproves them, or says a word that displeases them, they immediately take umbrage. [This is completely natural, especially in our culture with its permissiveness and prominent idea that no one should ever have to feel bad, ever. So it's easy to fall into this trap, to bristle when corrected. I fall into it. Try to accept the criticism, even if you think it wrong, in an open, loving way, without getting angry at the accuser/correcter] They are like hedgehogs, which put out their bristles as soon as they are touched. But how is it – you say you are worse than all, and yet you cannot bear a word? “He who is truly humble,” says St. Bernard, ” esteems himself good for nothing, and desires to be considered good for nothing by others as well.”
In the first place, then, if you wish to be truly humble, when you receive an admonition, receive it in a good heart, and thank the person who admonishes you. St. Chrysostom says, “When the just man is corrected, he is sorry for the error he has committed; but the proud man is sorry that the error should be known.” The Saints, when they are accused, even wrongfully, do not justify themselves, except when to defend themselves is necessary to avoid giving scandal; otherwise, they are silent and offer all to God.
In the second place, when you receive any affront, suffer it patiently, and increase in love towards the person who has ill-treated you. [This is also contrary to nature, and very difficult.] This is the touchstone by which you may know whether a person is humble and holy. If he resents an injury, even though he may work miracles, you may say that he is an empty reed. Father Balthazar Alvarez said that the time of humiliation is the time to gain treasures and merits. You will gain more by peaceably suffering contempt, than you could do by fasting ten days on bread and water. Humiliations which we inflict on ourselves are good; but those which we accept from the hands of others are worth much more, because in these last there is less of self and more of God; therefore, when we know how to bear them the merit is greater. But what can a Christian pretend to do if he cannot bear to be despised for the sake of God? How much contempt did Jesus suffer for us! Ah, if we loved Jesus Christ, not only should we not show resentment for injuries, but we should rejoice at seeing ourselves despised as Jesus Christ was despised.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m far from certain blogging is conducive to humility. I need to be very, very careful, more careful than I have been for the past year or so. I need to accept criticism better. I also need to be more careful in what I say.
None of the above is easy stuff. True practice of humility generally comes at a pretty advanced stage in the interior life. There are many who claim to be humble, who are not. As St. Alphonsus highlights above, it is virtually an oxymoron for someone to proclaim their own humility. Such types are generally very lost in pride, which consideration perhaps ought to give us pause and direct our prayers to a very, very important person in the Church.
I have had a sudden flurry of readings and sermons I’ve been exposed to that lead me to believe they are not coincidental, but providential. I believe Our Blessed Lord is telling me to work on my humility, which has been lacking.
Pray for me!