Humility of Heart
Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
Translation by Herbert Cardinal Vaughn,
Archbishop of Westminister, England 1903
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS
Thoughts and Sentiments on Humility Part 3
21. In a country where all are blind it is sufficient for a man to have but one eye for him to be said to have good sight, and amongst a multitude of ignorant people one need possess but a slight tinge of knowledge to acquire the reputation of being very learned; and in the same way in this wicked and corrupt world it is easy to flatter ourselves that we are good, if we are not quite so bad as many others. "I am not as the rest of men." [Luke xviii, 11] It was in this way that the Pharisee praised himself in the temple.
But in order to know ourselves as we really are, it is not with worldly-minded people that we ought to compare ourselves, but with Jesus Christ, Who is the model for all those who are predestinated. "Look," says St. Paul to everyone of us, quoting the words that were said to Moses, "Look and make it according to the pattern that was shown thee on the mount." [Heb. viii, 5]
How have I conformed my life to the life of the Incarnate Son of God, Who came to teach me the way to Heaven by His example? Ascend, O my soul, to the hill of Calvary, and gaze attentively upon thy crucified Savior! To this each one of us must conform in his own state of life if he wishes to be saved; such being the decree of the eternal Father, that the predestinated must "be made conformable to the image of His Son." [Rom. viii, 29]
But can I truthfully and conscientiously say that I imitate Him? In what way? Let me examine myself. Ah, how different I am from Him! And what just cause I find in this examen to humble myself! In comparing myself with sinners I think myself a Saint; but in comparing myself with Jesus Christ, Whom I ought to imitate, I am compelled to acknowledge that I am a sinner and a reprobate; and the only consolation left to me is to trust in the infinite mercy of God. "O God, my support and my deliverer." [Ps. cxliii, 2]
22. Read the lives of the Saints, and consider whose life your own most resembles: what degree of sanctity do you possess? If you were to die at this moment, to what part of Paradise would you think yourself destined? Perhaps amongst the innocents? No one is innocent who has committed even one mortal sin; and you-----have you still in your soul your Baptismal innocence? Perhaps, therefore, amongst the penitents? But where is your penitence when, far from seeking self-mortification, you seek in all things to please yourself? Do you think you deserve to be numbered amongst the Martyrs? I will not speak of the shedding of blood; but where is even your patience to suffer only the slightest trouble or adversity in this miserable life? Do you judge yourself worthy to be ranked with the virgins? But are you pure in body and mind? St. Anthony, the abbot, after having labored many years to perfect himself in holiness by imitating the virtues of all the most illustrious anchorites, found much to humble himself when he heard of St. Paul, the first hermit, and felt that in comparison with this holy man he himself had nothing of the religious left in him. O my soul, come too, and compare thyself with the Saints. "Call to remembrance the works of the fathers which they have done in their generations," [Mach. ii, 51] and thou wilt find innumerable occasions for humbling thyself in perceiving how far thou art from holiness. It is all very well to say: I do nothing wrong. To be saved it is not enough not to do evil, but one must also do good. "Avoid evil, and do good." [Ps. xxxvi, 27] It is not enough not to be a sinner by profession, but it is necessary to be holy by profession. "Follow "holiness, without which no man shall see God." [Heb. xii, 14]
23. Examine those virtues which you imagine that you possess. Have you prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice, modesty, humility, chastity, humbleness of spirit, charity, obedience, and many other virtues that may be necessary or suitable to your condition? If you have a few of these, in what degree do you possess them?
But I will say more: and that is, examine yourself first, and see whether you really have this virtue that you think you possess. What I mean to say is: is it a real virtue, or perhaps only a disposition of your natural temperament, be it melancholy, sanguine or phlegmatic? And even should this virtue be real, is it a Christian virtue or purely a human one? Every act of virtue which does not proceed from a supernatural motive, in order to bring us to everlasting bliss, is of no value. And in the practice of virtue, do you join to your external actions the inward and spiritual acts of the heart? O true Christian virtues, I fear that in me you are nothing but beautiful outward appearances! I deserve the reproach of God's word: "Because thou sayest: I am rich, and made wealthy, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable, and poor and blind and naked." [Apoc. iii, 17] And in the same manner the counsel of St. Augustine is good for me, that it is better to think of those virtues in which we are lacking rather than of those which we possess. "I will humble myself more for those virtues which I lack than pride myself on those I possess." [In Ps. xxxviii]
24. In order that an act of virtue be truly virtuous, it is necessary that it should be so in all its component parts, and if it be defective on one point only it becomes vitiated at once. A depraved intention, a single thought of vanity at the beginning, middle or ending of any virtuous work is sufficient to corrupt and change it into an evil one. It is enough for virtue to be wanting in humility for this virtue, which is no longer humble, to cease to be a virtue, and to become a cause of mortal pride.
It often happens to one who leads a spiritual life that the more he strives after virtue, the more he finds a sweet pleasure in himself, and therefore, as St. Augustine says, the sole fact of his self-satisfaction quickly renders him displeasing to God. "The more man thinks he has reason to be pleased with himself, so much the more I fear his self-esteem will displease God, Who resists the proud." [Lib. de Sancia Virginit., cap. xxxiv]
Oh, how poor we seem when we examine our own spirituality and goodness by the help of these reflections! May it please God that we may not be like those men who, dreaming that they possess great riches, awaken at the point of death to find that they are only beggars: "They have slept their sleep: and all the men of riches have found nothing in their hands." [Ps. lxxv, 6] May it please God that the plea of our virtue may not prove an argument for our greater condemnation: "And may that which is thought to be progress in virtue not prove a cause of damnation," [Lib. 5 Moral. cap. vi] says St. Gregory.
25. Humility is like purity: however little it may be contaminated it becomes impure. Purity is corrupted not only by an impure act, but also by an immodest word or thought. And humility is also so fragile that it is easily tainted by the love of praise, by a word or thought of self-esteem, by vainglory or self-love.
who really loves purity not only diligently banishes all impure fancies
but also does so with horror and abomination; and in the same way he
really loves humility, far from taking pleasure in praise and honor, is
displeased by them, and instead of fleeing from humiliations embraces
Oh, how much I find to humble myself here, for I see from this that I have no real love of humility! What is the result? One does not esteem a virtue which one does not love, and one has but little desire to acquire a virtue which one neither esteems nor loves; and if this be the case, woe is me! If I have neither love nor esteem for humility, it is because I do not know how precious this virtue is in itself, nor how necessary it is to me. But, O my God, breathe over me that almighty word: "Be light made," [Gen. i, 3] so that I may be enlightened and learn to know this important virtue which Thou dost desire that I should love. And with Thy aid I will love it and guard it jealously, if I have light to understand it.
26. Every morning we ought to make this prayer and daily offering to God: I offer Thee, O my God, all my thoughts, all my words and all my actions of this day. Grant that they may be thoughts of humility, words of humility, and actions of humility-----all to Thy glory.
Also during the course of the day it will be well to repeat this ejaculatory prayer: "Lord Jesus, give me a humble and contrite heart." These few words contain all that we can possibly ask of God; because in praying for a contrite heart we ask Him for that which is necessary to ensure forgiveness for our past life, and in praying for a humbled heart all that which is required to secure life everlasting. Oh, may I at the hour of death find myself with a contrite and humbled heart! Then what confidence shall I not have in the mercy of God if I can exclaim with King David: "A contrite and humble heart, O my God, Thou wilt not despise." We very often offer prayers to God to which He might justly reply: "Thou knowest not what thou askest"; [Ps. l, 19] but when we ask for holy humility, we know for certain we are asking for something which is most pleasing to God and most necessary to ourselves; and in asking for this we must believe that God will maintain His infallible promise: "Ask, and it shall be given you." [Matt. vii, 7]
27. If we examine all our falls into sin, whether venial or grave, the cause will always be found in some hidden pride; and true indeed are the words of the Holy Ghost: "For pride is the beginning of all sin." [Ecclus. x, 15] Of this truth our Lord Jesus Christ Himself has warned us in His Gospel where He says: "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled." [Matt. xxiii, 12] God can give no greater humiliation to a soul than to allow it to fall into sin; because sin is the lowest depth of all, that is base, vile and ignominious.
Therefore each time that we are humbled by falling into sin, it is certain that we must previously have exalted ourselves by some act of pride; because only the proud are threatened with the punishment of this humiliation: "And he humbled himself afterwards, because his heart had been lifted up." [2 Paralip. xxxii] For thus it is written of King Ezechias in holy Scripture, and the inspired writer has also said: "Before destruction the heart of man is exalted." [Prov. xviii, 12]
There never has been a case of sin, says St. Augustine, nor ever will be one, nor can ever be one, of which pride was not in some measure the occasion: " There never can have been, and never can be, and there never shall be any sin without pride." [Lib. de Salute, xix vel alias]
Let us be so truly humble that we may not incur the punishment of this humiliation. No one can fall who lies on the ground; and no one can sin so long as he is humble. My God! My God! let me remain in my nothingness, for it is the surest state for me.
28. We read of many who after being renowned for their holiness, fervent in the exercise of prayer, great penances and signal virtues, and who after being favored by God with the gifts of ecstasy, revelations and miracles, have nevertheless fallen into the hideous vice of impurity at the slightest approach of temptation. And when I consider it, I find that there is no sin that degrades the soul so much as this impure sin of the senses, because the soul, from being reasoning and spiritual, like the Angels, becomes thereby carnal, sensual and like brute beasts "who have no understanding." [Ps. xxxi, 9]
I am constrained to adore with fear the supreme judgments of God and also for my own warning to learn that pride was the reason of so great a fall; therefore we should all exclaim with the prophet, "And being exalted I have been humbled and troubled," [Ps. lxxxvii] and say to ourselves the words which he said to Lucifer after he had "meditated in his heart: 'I will ascend' "-----"How art thou fallen from Heaven, O Lucifer." [Isa. xiv]
The soul is humbled according to the measure of its self-exaltation, and great must have been the pride which was followed by such a tremendous and abominable humiliation. Ah, how much more precious is one degree of humility in comparison with a thousand revelations or ecstasies! Of what use is it, says St. Augustine, to possess unsullied purity and chastity and virginity if pride dominates the heart? "Of what avail is continence to him who is dominated by pride?" [Serm. de Verb. Dom.]
It is a wise and just disposition of God to permit the fall of the proud into every sin and especially into that of wantonness, as being the most degrading, so that by so great a fall he should be ashamed, humbled and cured of his pride. O St. Thomas, how well hast thou said: "He who is fettered by pride and does not know it, falls into the sin of impurity which is manifestly of itself disgraceful, that through this sin he may rise humiliated from his confession." [22, qu. clxi, art. 6, ad 3] From this, the Saint continues, is shown the gravity of the sin of pride; and as a doctor often permits his patient to suffer from a minor ill so as to liberate him from a greater, so God permits the soul to fall into the sin of the senses, so that it may be cured of the vice of pride.
To whatever sublime height of sanctity we may have attained, a fall is always to be feared. For, as says St. Augustine, there is no holiness that cannot be lost through pride alone: "If there be holiness in you, fear lest you may lose it. How? Through pride." [Serm. 13 de Verb. Dom.]
However much our Christian self-love desires to avoid the remorse and repentance which ever follows the humiliations caused by sin, we should nevertheless desire and seek to be humble, because if we are humble we can never be humbled. "O my soul," we must say to ourselves," O my soul, look well into thyself and be humble if thou dost not will that God should humble thee with temporal and eternal shame." God promises to exalt the humble, and Heaven is filled with the humble; God also threatens the proud with humiliation, and Hell is filled with the proud. God thus promises and menaces so that if we do not remain in humility allured by His great promises, we should at least remain in humility from fear of His potent threats: "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." [Matt. xxiii, 12]
God regards the petitions of the humble favorably, and inclines to answer them: " He hath regard to the prayer of the humble, and He hath not despised their petition." [Ps. ci, 18] But however much the proud man may invoke God, God will give him no spiritual consolation. St. Augustine says: "God will not come, even though thou call upon Him, if thou art puffed up." [Enarr. In Ps. 74]
These things are all old and oft-repeated, but it is because we know them and do not practice them that we deserve the reproof given by the prophet Daniel to Nabuchodonosor:" Thou hast not humbled thy heart, whereas thou knewest all these things." [Dan. v, 22]