Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 5

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CHAPTER V. On Interior Humility.

TO you however, my daughter, I would teach a deeper humility, for that
of which I have been speaking is almost more truly to be called worldly
wisdom than humility. There are some persons who dare not or will not
think about the graces with which God has endowed them, fearing lest
they should become self-complacent and vain-glorious; but they are
quite wrong. For if, as the Angelic Doctor says, the real way of
attaining to the Love of God is by a careful consideration of all His
benefits given to us, then the better we realise these the more we
shall love Him; and inasmuch as individual gifts are more acceptable
than general gifts, so they ought to be more specially dwelt upon. Of a
truth, nothing so tends to humble us before the Mercy of God as the
multitude of His gifts to us; just as nothing so tends to humble us
before His Justice as the multitude of our misdeeds. Let us consider
what He has done for us, and what we have done contrary to His Will,
and as we review our sins in detail, so let us review His Grace in the
same. There is no fear that a perception of what He has given you will
puff you up, so long as you keep steadily in mind that whatever is good
in you is not of yourself. Do mules cease to be clumsy, stinking beasts
because they are used to carry the dainty treasures and perfumes of a
prince? “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst
receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?” [66]
On the contrary, a lively appreciation of the grace given to you should
make you humble, for appreciation begets gratitude. But if, when
realising the gifts God has given you, any vanity should beset you, the
infallible remedy is to turn to the thought of all our ingratitude,
imperfection, and weakness. Any one who will calmly consider what he
has done without God, cannot fail to realise that what he does with God
is no merit of his own; and so we may rejoice in that which is good in
us, and take pleasure in the fact, but we shall give all the glory to
God Alone, Who Alone is its Author.

It was in this spirit that the Blessed Virgin confessed that God had
done “great things” to her; [67] only that she might humble herself and
exalt Him. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” she said, by reason of the
gifts He had given her.

We are very apt to speak of ourselves as nought, as weakness itself, as
the offscouring of the earth; but we should be very much vexed to be
taken at our word and generally considered what we call ourselves. On
the contrary, we often make-believe to run away and hide ourselves,
merely to be followed and sought out; we pretend to take the lowest
place, with the full intention of being honourably called to come up
higher. But true humility does not affect to be humble, and is not
given to make a display in lowly words. It seeks not only to conceal
other virtues, but above all it seeks and desires to conceal itself;
and if it were lawful to tell lies, or feign or give scandal, humility
would perhaps sometimes affect a cloak of pride in order to hide itself
utterly. Take my advice, my daughter, and either use no professions of
humility, or else use them with a real mind corresponding to your
outward expressions; never cast down your eyes without humbling your
heart; and do not pretend to wish to be last and least, unless you
really and sincerely mean it. I would make this so general a rule as to
have no exception; only courtesy sometimes requires us to put forward
those who obviously would not put themselves forward, but this is not
deceitful or mock humility; and so with respect to certain expressions
of regard which do not seem strictly true, but which are not dishonest,
because the speaker really intends to give honour and respect to him to
whom they are addressed; and even though the actual words may be
somewhat excessive, there is no harm in them if they are the ordinary
forms of society, though truly I wish that all our expressions were as
nearly as possible regulated by real heart feeling in all truthfulness
and simplicity. A really humble man would rather that some one else
called him worthless and good-for-nothing, than say so of himself; at
all events, if such things are said, he does not contradict them, but
acquiesces contentedly, for it is his own opinion. We meet people who
tell us that they leave mental prayer to those who are more perfect,
not feeling themselves worthy of it; that they dare not communicate
frequently, because they do not feel fit to do so; that they fear to
bring discredit on religion if they profess it, through their weakness
and frailty; while others decline to use their talents in the service
of God and their neighbour, because, forsooth, they know their
weakness, and are afraid of becoming proud if they do any good
thing,–lest while helping others they might destroy themselves. But
all this is unreal, and not merely a spurious but a vicious humility,
which tacitly and secretly condemns God’s gifts, and makes a pretext of
lowliness while really exalting self-love, self-sufficiency, indolence,
and evil tempers. “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either
in the depth or in the height above.” [68] So spake the prophet to King
Ahaz; but he answered, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.”
Unhappy man! he affects to show exceeding reverence to God, and under a
pretence of humility refuses to seek the grace offered by the Divine
Goodness. Could he not see that when God wills to grant us a favour, it
is mere pride to reject it, that God’s gifts must needs be accepted,
and that true humility lies in obedience and the most literal
compliance with His Will! Well then, God’s Will is that we should be
perfect, uniting ourselves to Him, and imitating Him to the utmost of
our powers. The proud man who trusts in himself may well undertake
nothing, but the humble man is all the braver that he knows his own
helplessness, and his courage waxes in proportion to his low opinion of
himself, because all his trust is in God, Who delights to show forth
His Power in our weakness, His Mercy in our misery. The safest course
is humbly and piously to venture upon whatever may be considered
profitable for us by those who undertake our spiritual guidance.

Nothing can be more foolish than to fancy we know that of which we are
really ignorant; to affect knowledge while conscious that we are
ignorant is intolerable vanity. For my part, I would rather not put
forward that which I really do know, while on the other hand neither
would I affect ignorance. When Charity requires it, you should readily
and kindly impart to your neighbour not only that which is necessary
for his instruction, but also what is profitable for his consolation.
The same humility which conceals graces with a view to their
preservation is ready to bring them forth at the bidding of Charity,
with a view to their increase and perfection; therein reminding me of
that tree in the Isles of Tylos, [69] which closes its beautiful
carnation blossoms at night, only opening them to the rising sun, so
that the natives say they go to sleep. Just so humility hides our
earthly virtues and perfections, only expanding them at the call of
Charity, which is not an earthly, but a heavenly, not a mere moral, but
a divine virtue; the true sun of all virtues, which should all be ruled
by it, so that any humility which controverts charity is unquestionably
false.

I would not affect either folly or wisdom; for just as humility deters
me from pretending to be wise, so simplicity and straightforwardness
deter me from pretending to be foolish; and just as vanity is opposed
to humility, so all affectation and pretence are opposed to honesty and
simplicity. If certain eminent servants of God have feigned folly in
order to be despised by the world, we may marvel, but not imitate them;
for they had special and extraordinary reasons for doing extraordinary
things, and cannot be used as a rule for such as we are. When David
[70] danced more than was customary before the Ark of the Covenant, it
was not with the intention of affecting folly, but simply as expressing
the unbounded and extraordinary gladness of his heart. Michal his wife
reproached him with his actions as folly, but he did not mind being
“vile and base in his own sight,” but declared himself willing to be
despised for God’s Sake. And so, if you should be despised for acts of
genuine devotion, humility will enable you to rejoice in so blessed a
contempt, the cause of which does not lie with you.
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[66] 1 Cor. iv. 7.

[67] S. Luke i. 46-49.

[68] Isa. vii. 11, 12.

[69] Islands in the Persian Gulf.

[70] 2 Sam. vi. 14.
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