Humility is based on truth, but the truth on which it is based is one. Therefore, real and valid humility must be based on or flow from the whole truth. And the whole truth about anyone is that God has given him undeniable gifts and endowments and talents, both of nature and of grace.
Humility, then, does not mean self-depreciation. Being humble does not mean that we must deny the endowments of nature or grace that Almighty God has given us. If God has given someone a magnificent voice, it is not humble for her to pretend that she sings like a frog or to deny in any way the gift that God has given her. Humility is based on truth, and the truth is that God has given her a truly beautiful voice. Therefore, she should not deny it, but attribute it to God, which is positive humility.
Our divine Lord Himself — infinite perfection — said to His followers: “Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.” But He also said to His enemies, “Which of you can convict me of sin?” Thereby He proclaimed His unique sinlessness.
Our Blessed Mother did not deny the wonderful prerogatives Almighty God had lavished on her. “Because He who is mighty has done great things for me,” she sang, “all generations shall call me blessed.” Is this the Virgin most humble? “All generations shall call me blessed.” Surely, that future, perpetual benediction was a gift that Almighty God had given her, “because He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid.” But note what she says: “He who is mighty has done great things for me.” She claimed no applause for her greatness; instead, she put the credit for her gifts where it belonged — namely, with God.
St. Paul calls himself “the least of the apostles.” That is what he was of himself. But he also says, “But, by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace in me has not been fruitless — in fact I have labored more than any of them.” St. Paul was saying in effect, “I have labored more abundantly than Peter, the first Pope, the one whom Christ made the head of His Church; more abundantly than James and John, who went up on the mountain with Him; more abundantly than Philip and all the others. I, Paul, have labored more abundantly than all of them.” Talk about boasting! No! Not at all, for he explains, “Yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” He gave the credit where credit was due.
Similarly, St. Thomas Aquinas claimed to have the gift of never reading anything that he did not understand completely and remember always, but he did not attribute this gift to himself; he attributed it to God, where it belonged.
The difference between our Blessed Mother, St. Paul, St. Thomas, and all humble ones, and ourselves is that they attribute their gifts and prerogatives to their proper source, which is Almighty God, our Father.
On the other hand, we so often childishly attribute our gifts and accomplishments to ourselves. “See my medals? Am I not grand?” How foolish can we become?
We are like a man driving an armored express truck, transferring gold and securities from one bank to another. Wouldn’t he be foolish to drive by his girlfriend’s house and pretend that all the gold in his truck was his own? It is no more his than it is the bank president’s. Therefore, would he not be foolish to pretend that, because he was driving a truck full of gold, he was better than the man driving the garbage truck for the city? Very likely the garbage-truck driver gets a much bigger paycheck at the end of the week than the bank-truck driver, even though he has been carrying around with him throughout the week a much less enviable load.
It will be the same in Heaven. Persons with few gifts, with meager talent, or looks, or abilities, or achievement may get the much greater reward, because of the humble way they did their work for God with what they had, than the persons with all the talents, and all looks, and all the ability, but who attributed their gifts to themselves so foolishly and sought and basked in their own glory.
Therefore, humility does not at all mean denying the gifts, and the abilities, and the talent, and attributes that Almighty God has given us; it does mean that we attribute them not to ourselves but to God. It demands that we use them, not for our own display, not for getting the praise of others, but to be useful to ourselves and others and thereby give glory to God. If we are humble, we use our gifts of nature and grace to do good; we use them to spread God’s kingdom and His glory. We follow the counsel of our divine Lord: “Let your light shine before men, in order that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.” Let your light shine before men, He tells us. That is, do not hide your light under a bushel; do not conceal the talents and abilities that you have. Use them, but use them for the glory of God.
If, as a result of our doing this, others praise us, let us refer the praise to God instead of proudly soaking it up ourselves. We can say in reply to a compliment, “Well, God is good.” Or, if we are tempted to feel proud over anything God has given us or done through us, we should strive to develop the habit of praying silently, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory,” as the psalmist said.
To attribute what we have to God, where the credit belongs; to say, “God is good,” when we are praised; to use our talents and abilities not for our own glory but for the glory of God: this is the positive practice of humility.