(Taken from Magnificat Vol. XXXVIII, No. 4)
In the School of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Father John Gregory of the Trinity, O.D.M.
Our Lord expects us to have true humility, not just a show of humility. We sometimes imagine that humility consists in saying, “I am but dust and ashes, a nothing, a poor sinner”! Those are mere words. What God expects of us is humility of heart and meekness – for example, at moments when others tell us (or make us feel) that we are not worth very much. The willing acceptance of scorn is of infinitely greater value than any vain protestations. People have a very false idea of humility. They would like the servants of God to walk with lowered heads, and above all that they not bother anyone, but be weak and complacent in evil. No. If we serve God, we must be defenders of the rights of God, but not defenders of our own little personal rights. Yet at the same time that while we must make ourselves small before God and man, we have to be imposing and energetic when it is a matter of defending the rights of God. To remain silent in the face of what offends God is not humility. It is cowardice and treason.
Even though we must protest against the falsehoods circulating in the world, or against the errors of certain persons, we have to always do so with love in our hearts. There must never be any bitterness toward anyone whatsoever. It is in the school of Jesus, especially in prayer and not in books, that we will understand these things and receive the lights of God.
When we have humility, we seek only to please God. Little does it matter whether they canonize or condemn us, whether they say we are pleasant or detestable and anathema. That should leave us completely indifferent, as long as God is content. Humility makes us free, sets us above all human judgments. It gives us joy and peace of soul. Are we despised? Do we have the impression that we are being set aside, wrongly judged? It doesn’t matter; if we have the grace of God, it should suffice for us.
With humility, nothing saddens us. Even if the Pope himself were to blame you, you should not be sad if your conscience is at peace, if your only purpose is to please God. God permits misunderstandings of this sort. Any human being, even the holiest, can lack lights on certain matters at a given moment. There are cases of this in the lives of the saints.
For example, in good faith St. Alphonsus Liguori believed some serious accusations of infamous sins were supposedly committed by St. Gerard Majella, one of his religious. Saying not a word on his own behalf, St. Gerard accepted the harsh sanction that was inflicted upon him, maintaining his peace of soul because he knew that God had not been offended. He let himself be accused because the Redemptorist Rule states that one must not reply and defend oneself when under accusation. (Obviously, St. Gerard had taken that rule too literally; what the founder of the Redemptorist order meant was that the brothers should not justify themselves in trivial matters.)
So St. Gerard Majella did not defend himself. His conscience was at peace, so what could anything else matter to him. That is humility. He is not saying, “I am nothing…” but as soon as anyone wants to touch the little “nothing” he revolts and hits the ceiling. Like the saints, we must rise above all human considerations. I assure you, it is a grace of God to liberate oneself of all the opinions of others, even those of persons who live with us and whom we esteem the most. We must have only one desire: to please God in all things.
Yes, we have a very false idea of humility. For example, if you are in authority, you must not assign yourself the last place out of humility. In all simplicity, you must preside. If God entrusts you with a certain responsibility, you must accomplish it without human respect. If He asks you to speak, you must do so humbly, to obey God. I repeat: far too easily, we think that humility means letting everything take its course, lowering one’s head, and above all saying nothing.
What may seem to be humility is sometimes great pride. To remain silent because you realize that people do not listen to you very carefully and do not have a very high regard for you, is simply pride. Not to defend the rights of God out of human respect, or in order to avoid looking proud, is not humility but pride. It is humility to accept having others think of you as being proud. Oftentimes, those who defend the rights of God are thought of as proud. It is humility to place yourself above all human considerations and thoughts, in view of seeking God alone. Even if this attitude appears 100% proud, that is of little importance, as long as we sincerely seek to please God.
Nonetheless, we must never speak the truth with arrogance or in a spirit of argumentation or dissent, in order to have the upper hand. God does not want us to have the upper hand. He very simply wants us to make the truth known. He does not ask us to succeed, but to obey Him.
God asks us to sow the good seed, as Our Lord teaches us in the Gospel. “The kingdom of heaven is like one who sowed good seed in his field.”(1) We must sow the good seed of our good words and example. The rest is not in our province. If your neighbor turns a deaf ear, that is not your concern. You have done your duty, you have your merit before God. He is pleased: that should suffice.
Let us always have this spirit: to speak the truth with simplicity and without raising objections. Our zeal must never turn into argumentation and controversy. As soon as we persist in wanting to make our idea prevail, at once we separate from God, we fall into darkness. Let us not forget these words of the Holy Gospel: “Let your speech be, ‘Yes, yes,’ ‘No, no.’ Whatever is beyond these comes from the evil one.”(2) We avoid many problems by following this rule. Otherwise we want to win out, and sometimes the consequences are tragic. We go too far, we no longer see clearly, because we have separated from God.
If the dispositions of humility are not present in our soul, how can we expect to be enlightened by God? “God gives His grace to the humble and resists the proud.”(3) After all, what does it matter if a poor creature accuses us or places us in trouble? If we have sought to please God, what does all the rest matter to us?
You may be certain, my brothers and sisters, that by practising humility, patience and meekness, you will have the last word, because God will be with you. When God is present, we have the last word. Do you think anyone can prevent what God wills? “If God is with us, who will be against us?”(4) Let us always have the ambition of having God with us. This is all that counts.
(1) Matthew 13:24
(2) Matthew 5:37
(3) I Peter 5:5
(4) Romans 8:31