Exalted Humility

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

The pagan goal was to rely on oneself, to call attention to oneself, to engage in a good deal of self-promotion. This was especially true of those in leadership positions, and so, in a certain respect, it was logical for the scribes and Pharisees in this week’s Gospel to live for places of honor, prestige and the adulation of others. To be hidden and humble would only lessen their status as religious leaders.

But the revelation of Jesus Christ changes all that. The Gospel proclaims that humility is not a mark of weakness but instead a bona fide virtue that blesses the believer with distinct advantages. First of all, without Gospel humility, we would remain trapped in our weaknesses, defects and shortcomings. A telling line from The Imitation of Christ reads, “If you seek yourself, you will find yourself — to your own ruin.” However, the humility of the Gospel liberates us from false self-exaltation. In fact, the grace of Gospel humility allows us to confront the truth about ourselves with complete confidence in God, whose goodness far exceeds all our failures.

Moreover, Gospel humility is habit-forming. Humility is the principle of the life of faith because the honest recognition of our real nothingness becomes the indispensable means by which we welcome the uplifting love of the Father. Humility saves us from pretending to be something we are not, and makes room for the kind of perfection only God can provide — a perfection that we cannot accomplish on our own, no matter how many titles, credentials and marks of honor the world may confer upon us. In the light of Christian humility, the more we realize how deficient we are, the more we rejoice in the knowledge of how gracious and generous God is.

Finally, once humility takes hold of us, our former self-serving ways are transformed into an eagerness to serve others. Only the revelation of Christian humility assures us how much the real secret of happiness is not being selfish. Paradoxically, authentic Christian greatness manifests itself in service, but in service assumed not as a demotion, but as the ultimate exaltation.

All of this stems from, and is rooted in, the life and example of Jesus Christ Himself. In the order of grace, the Lord is the first to humble Himself and come among us as a man. His earthly life expresses the mystery of divinity hidden under the humble appearance of the Lord’s humanity. On the Cross, Christ, by His humble obedience, won for us victory over sin and death, and was exalted as Lord of all. On many occasions, Jesus told His disciples that if they wanted to reign with Him, they had to be willing to follow in His footsteps. To us, too, the Lord addresses the invitation, “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” If we want to advance in Christian perfection, there is no surer way than the way of humility, for, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

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