Humility of Heart
Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
Translation by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn,
Archbishop of Westminister, England1903
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Examen on Humility Towards God: Part 2
108. There are some people who, under the pretext of making acts of humility, desire from time to time to accuse themselves in their confession of some grave and shameful sin of their past life. If peradventure you are among these, beware lest this arise more from a desire to appear humble than to be humble in reality. Self-love is cunning, and knows how to work secretly.
This fault was discovered by St. Bernard: "The more subtly vain confession is, the more dangerously hurtful it is, as when, for instance, we are not ashamed to reveal our shameful deeds, not because we are humble but that we may seem to be so. What more perverse or shameful than that confession, the guardian of humility, should take service under the banner of pride?" [Serm. vi in Cant.]
This kind of humility is not always desirable even outside the confessional, because it can easily lead us to create scandal by speaking of certain sins which should not even be named. If you have this strange fault, there is no reason why you should pride yourself on it, but you should rather be ashamed of it; for, as the holy abbot says: "What species of pride can this be, that thou wouldst fain be better by what thou appearest to be worse? That thou canst not be thought holy without seeming to be wicked?"
109. And also, after confession, you must remember the sins you have committed, in order to excite your heart to feelings of shame and sorrow, humbling yourself before God. But do you remember to exercise yourself in this humility? This is a humility of precept. "The whole life of the Christian must be one long penance." [Sess. I, cap. ii] Thus speaks the holy Council of Trent, where the whole Church of Christ was assembled, and its dogmas are infallible not less in matters of morality than in those of faith.
The Council of Trent says "must be," which is a formula not of exhortation but of necessity; and it does not prescribe such penances as scourgings, hair shirts, or fasts, but speaks generally; and we cannot interpret the sense of these words with more discretion than by saying: "If you cannot perform certain exterior penances, you must nevertheless never neglect those interior penances which consist in the contrition and humiliation of the heart, saying with David: 'Have mercy upon me, O God. . . . against Thee only have I sinned. . . . A contrite and a humble heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.' " [Ps. l] Do you practice this penitential humility? O my God! Your sins are so numerous, and yet you live in absolute forgetfulness of them, as if you were innocent!
Do you remember the obligation you are under to think often: "What have I done? What great evil have I done to offend God?" Pray to God that He may give you light to know the gravity of your sin, and you will have that continual sorrow which King David had, if you can say with him: " I acknowledge my iniquities."
110. How necessary humility is, in order that you should approach Holy Communion worthily, your own faith can teach you. But in your preparation for that Divine Sacrament and in your thanksgiving, do you make due acts of humility? It is true that you kneel down in all exterior humility and beat your breast at the "Domine non sum dignus," but have you really that true humility of heart which is becoming to such a holy function?
The centurion was sanctified when he received Jesus Christ in his own house, because he prepared himself to receive Him with deep humility and said, more from his heart than with his lips, "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof." [Matt. viii, 8] This mystery more than others calls for humility, and when the Son of God took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was specially by virtue of her humility, "because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid." [Luke i, 48] Oh, if you were to reflect that it is a God you are going to receive; but do you think of this as God Himself exhorts you to do? "Be still and see that I am God." [Ps. xlv, 11]
111. How do you humble your intellect in regard to the mysteries of the Catholic Faith? Are you curious in seeking and wishing to know the reasons for those things which the Church proposes for your belief, inclining to surrender yourself more to human reasoning than to Divine authority? In matters of faith it is most necessary to practice humility, and the more humble our belief, the more honour it gives to God.
It is for this reason that Holy Writ, after having said that God is honoured by the humble, exhorts us emphatically to humble our intellect: "He is honoured by the humble. Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things which are above thy ability; but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious." [Ecclus iii, 22] When it is a question of faith, the Apostle teaches us that we must not seek to know the why and wherefore, but to humble any height of our understanding in lowly reverence to Jesus Christ, "bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of God." [2 Cor. x, 5] This is most necessary.
And especially when we have temptations against faith, it is necessary that we should humble ourselves immediately, without entering into argument or dispute with the devil. But are you prudent in taking these measures at once, and do you say with King David, I will not pause to consider these speculations in "great matters nor in things too wonderful for me"? [Ps. cxxx, 2]
112. But if we are hound to humble our intellect in the things that touch our belief, we must not humble our will the less to do those things which are commanded to us. In this the substance of true humility principally consists, but how do you observe it? Do you humble yourself promptly in obedience to the Divine commandments, persuaded that you are placed in this world only to do the will of God and not your own? When you recite the Our Father, what thought do you give to these words, "Thy will be done"? [Matt. vi, 10] How often do you say them only with your lips and not from your heart?
113. When you attempt to disobey any of the Divine commandments how do you behave? It is especially in the time of temptation that humility is necessary. Every time the devil tempts you to commit some grave sin, he tempts you to revolt against God, and to despise and offend Him.
114. How do you resign your will to the will of God in the time of adversity, which is especially the time when we ought to humble ourselves, as the Holy Ghost tells us by the mouth of St. Peter: "Be thou humble therefore under the mighty hand of God"? [1 Pet. v, 6]
As all the troubles of this world are ordained by God, and yours are sent to you by Him especially to humble your pride and keep you in due humility, do you really receive them with such intention as to correspond with the intention of God, saying with the Prophet: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me"? [Ps. cxviii, 71]
The best means to oblige God to deliver us from our troubles is to humble ourselves, and King David testifies to this by his own experience in Ps. cxiv, 4, 6: "I met with trouble and sorrow, I was humbled and He delivered me." Do you ever practice this means of humbling yourself in your troubles, protesting that you have merited them, and deserve them if for no other reason than on account of your pride?
God sends adversity to you to humble you, and He humbles you so that from this humiliation you may learn humility. But what fruit of humility have you gathered from all the adversity you have had hitherto? Can you say, as Moses said to the Hebrews: "We have rejoiced for the days in which Thou hast humbled us"? [Ps. lxxxix, 15]
115. If you have any good quality, either bodily or spiritual, and if you have done any good work, do you recognize that it all comes from, God, attributing all the glory to God as due to Him alone? "To the only God be honour and glory." [2 Tim. i, 17] In this, says St. Paul, we discern the spirit of God which is the spirit of humility, from the spirit of the world which is the spirit of pride, because whoever has the spirit of God acknowledges that all that he has is simply a gift from God. "Now we have received not the spirit of the world but the spirit that is of God, that we may know the things that are given us from God." [1 Cor. ii, 12]
But of what use would this recognition that everything comes from God be, except to refer all things to Him and to thank Him? Do you thank God for the many blessings which you are constantly receiving from Him-----from your very heart, with true humility, believing yourself to be so miserable that you would fall into every sin, and even into Hell itself, if God did not come to your help? "Unless the Lord had been my helper, my soul had almost dwelt in Hell." [Ps. xciii, 17]
Nothing is so contrary to true humility as to seek one's own esteem in the exercise of good works. Do you sometimes do good from motives of human respect, in order to be seen-----esteemed? "Take heed," Christ says to you, "that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them." [Matt. vi, 1] You are merely robbing God of glory, when from the gifts He has given you, you reserve some of the glory for yourself. Examine your intentions; are they purely directed to the glorification of God?
And granted that in doing good you do not seek the esteem of men, do you sometimes do this in order not to lose the good graces and favours of others, conforming to their spirit, which is to live according to the usage of the world in the forgetfulness of God? This is also loving the glory of the world more than the glory of God, and is a fault which is greatly opposed to humility, and which was condemned in those chief men among the Jews who believed in Christ, but from fear of the Pharisees and out of respect to their opinion did not dare to confess Him, "for they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God." [John xii, 43]
117. Have you perhaps a conscience which is timorous by reason of many scruples? If such be the case, examine yourself, and you will probably find that the true reason of your scruples lies in your self-love, that is, in your pride.
You are indocile, and you do not know how to submit to that which your directors tell you to do; and St. Thomas teaches that this is an effect of pride, "because docility is the beautiful daughter of humility and disposes the soul to obedience." [2a 2æ, qu. xlviii; et qu. xlix, art. 3 ad 4]
How is it when we read the lives of the Saints we do not find that they were agitated by these scruples? The Saints were humble, and where humility is there also is tranquillity of mind. We know that many scrupulous persons have been cured of their scruples, which were considered almost incurable, by no other means than by saying to God with their whole heart: "I accuse myself of pride; I am sorry for my pride, and I ask Your help in order to amend my great pride."
But if you find that you are scrupulous less from indocility than from cowardice, go for advice once more to St. Thomas, who teaches that this cowardice also comes from pride, because in judging one's own sufficiency we set our own judgment in opposition to that of others. [2a 2æ, qu. cxxxiii. art. 1]
Do you wish to enjoy the peace of a quiet conscience, and also of certain spiritual consolations which are a great help in aiding you to do willingly all that is necessary to lead a devout life and to be ever more fervent in the service of God? I cannot give you better advice than this: Give yourself to humility, and God will fill your soul with ineffable consolation. "And my spirit hath rejoiced," says the Blessed Virgin in her canticle; and she adds, for your instruction, that this exultation was sent to her by God because of her humility: "Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid." [Luke 1, 48]
118. If you have a sincere wish to save your soul, you must take those means which God has ordained for you, and the principal and most essential one is humility, as is shown in holy Scripture: "For Thou wilt save the humble people." [Ps. xxxiii, 10] "And He will save the humble of spirit." [Ps. xvii, 28] "Glory shall uphold the humble of spirit." [Prov. xxix, 23] And how do you esteem this humility? How do you practice it? How fervently do you ask God for it? Do you hold it to be of precept, or only of counsel which you are at liberty to choose or reject at will? The entrance to Paradise is not only narrow but low, therefore Jesus Christ said: "Unless you become as little children, you cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven." [Matt. xviii, 3] And into this kingdom he alone can enter who "shall humble himself." [Ibid. xviii, 4]
There is always danger on the journey towards our heavenly home for those who hold their heads high, and it is safer to keep them bowed low. This is a general rule for all.
St. John of Chrysostom warns us: "When our Lord said, 'Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart,' it was not merely to monks that He spoke, but to all classes of men." [Lib. 3]
Humility of heart was not commanded by Jesus Christ only to religious, but also to seculars whoever they may be and without any exception.