How to Be Humble
The Lord (Week 15 of 23)
But can sin hinder the all-powerful will of love? Can’t God fill men with such horror of sin that they fly to him in contrition and love? Who is to say what is possible and what not? No, there must be something else in God that the word love does not cover. It seems we must say, God is humble.
But first let us clarify the word. We use it to describe someone who bows to the grandeur of another; or who esteems a talent that surpasses his own; or who appreciates without envy another’s merit. That is not humility but honesty. Difficult as it may sometimes be, such an attitude is no more or less than simple intellectual integrity. Humility, however, does not move upwards, but downwards. It does not mean that the lesser one respectfully acknowledges the greater, but that the greater reverently bends to the lesser one. By this profound mystery we can measure how far removed the Christian attitude is from any natural earthiness. That the great one kindly descends to the little one, gently respecting his importance, that he is touched by weakness and makes himself its defender—this much we comprehend. But humility begins only where greatness reverently bows before one who is not great.
The Lord, Part 5, Chapter III, Paragraph 12 [emphasis mine]
What does it mean to be “humble“? We certainly use the word in a variety of ways.
“Humility begins only where greatness reverently bows before one who is not great,” Guardini instructs us.
Now, I don’t consider myself great. Even so, am I willing to “bow down” before someone who’s less than me, whether a child, a homeless man on the street, or simply someone who needs my honest-to-goodness help? Could it possibly be humility to show that unnamed family member how to load that setting on their computer for the 5000th time this week?
Looking at how I phrased that question, yes, I think that my ego has answered for me…
But how about that person who has hurt me, who has slammed the emotional doors shut on me and left me out in the cold, so to speak? What does humility mean in relation to that person?
A caution though, because humility is not about degrading oneself. Guardini continues in the next paragraph:
This is precisely what he does not do. Walking in humility, he is mysteriously self-confident and knows that the more daringly he flings himself away, the more certainly he will find himself. … Will his gesture be rewarded? Definitely. In his humble encounter with the little man, he learns to appreciate his intrinsic value. Not that he to whom he descends ‘also has his worth,’ but that his very unimportance possesses a special costliness of its own.
The image of Saint Teresa of Calcutta comes to mind: her bottomless smile, her gentle witness, her tireless message. Mother Teresa prayed hours a day, and she did not consider anything beneath her. In the poorest of the poor, she saw the greatness, the “special costliness” of dignity, and she bowed to it in service and love.
Humility and love are not virtues of degneracy. They spring from that creative gesture of God which ignores all that is purely natural and are directed towards the new world in the process of creation. Thus a man can practice humility only to the extent that he is conscious of the grandeur, both actual and latent, that God has planted in him.
We have to have an awareness of our own greatness in order to be humble, because God has made us great.
So my saying, earlier in this post, that I do not think I’m great actually limits me for the humility I can practice.
Being aware of our greatness, in terms of the dignity and gift it is from God, is not pride or vanity: it is the first step to becoming like the Virgin Mary, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, and that person who needs my help.
And that, I think, is the path to heaven.
Part 5: Ch. VII-IX
1. How can you practice humility in some small way this week? Who can you serve or how can you “bow down” to someone who is lesser than you?
2. Throughout our reading, we are challenged to consider love and judgement, in addition to humility. What did you find yourself convicted of as you read? How was God pulling you closer to himself through the unveiling of these concepts?
Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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