Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 6

Book Talk Tuesday, Introduction to the Devout Life, Part 3, Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI. Humility makes us rejoice in our own Abjection.

BUT, my daughter, I am going a step further, and I bid you everywhere
and in everything to rejoice in your own abjection. Perhaps you will
ask in reply what I mean by that. In Latin abjection means humility,
and humility means abjection, so that when Our Lady says in the
Magnificat that all generations shall call her blessed, because God
hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, [71] she means that He
has accepted her abjection and lowliness in order to fill her with
graces and favours. Nevertheless, there is a difference between
humility and abjection; for abjection is the poverty, vileness and
littleness which exist in us, without our taking heed to them; but
humility implies a real knowledge and voluntary recognition of that
abjection. And the highest point of humility consists in not merely
acknowledging one’s abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not from
any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God’s
Divine Majesty, and to esteem one’s neighbour more highly than one’s
self. This is what I would have you do; and to explain myself more
clearly, let me tell you that the trials which afflict us are sometimes
abject, sometimes honourable. NOW many people will accept the latter,
but very few are willing to accept the former. Everybody respects and
pities a pious hermit shivering in his worn-out garb; but let a poor
gentleman or lady be in like case, and they are despised for it,–and
so their poverty is abject. A religious receives a sharp rebuke from
his superior meekly, or a child from his parent, and every one will
call it obedience, mortification, wisdom; but let a knight or a lady
accept the like from some one, albeit for the Love of God, and they
will forthwith be accused of cowardice. This again is abject suffering.
One person has a cancer in the arm, another in the face; the former
only has the pain to bear, but the latter has also to endure all the
disgust and repulsion caused by his disease; and this is abjection. And
what I want to teach you is, that we should not merely rejoice in our
trouble, which we do by means of patience, but we should also cherish
the abjection, which is done by means of humility. Again, there are
abject and honourable virtues; for the world generally despises
patience, gentleness, simplicity, and even humility itself, while, on
the contrary, it highly esteems prudence, valour, and liberality.
Sometimes even there may be a like distinction drawn between acts of
one and the same virtue–one being despised and the other respected.
Thus almsgiving and forgiveness of injuries are both acts of charity,
but while every one esteems the first, the world looks down upon the
last. A young man or a girl who refuses to join in the excesses of
dress, amusement, or gossip of their circle, is laughed at and
criticised, and their self-restraint is called affectation or bigotry.
Well, to rejoice in that is to rejoice in abjection. Or, to take
another shape of the same thing. We are employed in visiting the
sick–if I am sent to the most wretched cases, it is an abjection in
the world’s sight, and consequently I like it. If I am sent to those of
a better class, it is an interior abjection, for there is less grace
and merit in the work, and so I can accept that abjection. If one has a
fall in the street, there is the ridiculous part of it to be borne, as
well as the possible pain; and this is an abjection we must accept.
There are even some faults, in which there is no harm beyond their
abjection, and although humility does not require us to commit them
intentionally, it does require of us not to be disturbed at having
committed them. I mean certain foolish acts, incivilities, and
inadvertencies, which we ought to avoid as far as may be out of
civility and decorum, but of which, if accidentally committed, we ought
to accept the abjection heartily, out of humility. To go further
still,–if in anger or excitement I have been led to use unseemly
words, offending God and my neighbour thereby, I will repent heartily,
and be very grieved for the offence, which I must try to repair to the
utmost; but meanwhile I will accept the abjection and disgrace which
will ensue, and were it possible to separate the two things, I ought
earnestly to reject the sin, while I retained the abjection readily.

But while we rejoice in the abjection, we must nevertheless use all due
and lawful means to remedy the evil whence it springs, especially when
that evil is serious. Thus, if I have an abject disease in my face, I
should endeavour to get it cured, although I do not wish to obliterate
the abjection it has caused me. If I have done something awkward which
hurts no one, I will not make excuses, because, although it was a
failing, my own abjection is the only result; but if I have given
offence or scandal through my carelessness or folly, I am bound to try
and remedy it by a sincere apology. There are occasions when charity
requires us not to acquiesce in abjection, but in such a case one ought
the more to take it inwardly to heart for one’s private edification.

Perhaps you will ask what are the most profitable forms of abjection.
Unquestionably, those most helpful to our own souls, and most
acceptable to God, are such as come accidentally, or in the natural
course of events, because we have not chosen them ourselves, but simply
accepted God’s choice, which is always to be preferred to ours. But if
we are constrained to choose, the greatest abjections are best; and the
greatest is whatever is most contrary to one’s individual inclination,
so long as it is in conformity with one’s vocation; for of a truth our
self-will and self-pleasing mars many graces. Who can teach any of us
truly to say with David, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of
my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness”? [72] None, dear
child, save He Who lived and died the scorn of men, and the outcast of
the people, in order that we might be raised up. I have said things
here which must seem very hard to contemplate, but, believe me, they
will become sweet as honey when you try to put them in practice.

[71] S. Luke i. 48.

[72] Ps. lxxxiv. 10.