True face of humility
I was happy to learn that Pope Francis tackled the question of humility in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et exsultate (Rejoice and be glad), which is about holiness in today’s world.
In paragraph 118 of the document, he said it very clearly: “Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness.
“The holiness that God bestows on his Church comes through the humiliation of his son. He is the way. Humiliation makes you resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of Christ.”
These words resonate strongly with me. Years ago, when still as a college student, I was very intrigued by the words of St. Josemaria Escriva in his book, The Way. Point 594 of that book said: “You are humble not when you humble yourself, but when you are humbled by others and you bear it for Christ.”
I remember that these words prompted me to make some radical adjustments, a paradigm shift, in my understanding of humility. I thought humility was a matter of humbling oneself, which I was willing to do, at least to some extent. What Escriva’s words told me, and now what Pope Francis is reminding me, is that humility is a matter of being humiliated by others and by some external developments.
That was hard to do and to make as an organic part of my attitudes. It means that I have to go beyond my feelings, my preferences, my ideas of humility. It means that humility does not depend on me, but on how things go in the world, no matter how unpalatable they would be to me or to anyone.
To be sure, this character of humility can only be found in Christ who precisely said: “Learn from me for I am meek and humble in heart.” (Mt 11,29) And he expressed this very vividly in his life by going through all the mockeries, insults and ultimately the crucifixion during his passion and death just to complete our redemption.
We need to adapt this understanding of humility as taught and lived by Christ and as Pope Francis now reminds us of. Yes, it will require tremendous effort on our part, but the grace of God will always be there. Let us just keep in mind Christ’s reassurance: “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” (Mt 11,30)
Let us not over-react to all the humiliations we can encounter in our life by not insisting too much on the tit-for-tat kind of justice. Let us remember that even those humiliations and expressions of hatred and injustice that can be inflicted on us will always play into the redemptive game-plan of God for us, if not now then in the end.
When Caiaphas, for example, said that “it is better for you that one man dies for the people than that the whole nation perish,” (Jn 11,50) he was actually playing into God’s game-plan. St. John in his gospel said: “He (Caiaphas) prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
Thus, we should not over-react when all insults, injustice, violence and all other forms of humiliations would pour on us. We need to react the way Christ reacted to his humiliations.
That is the only way we can truly be humble and in the end to be truly holy, as Pope Francis said his latest Apostolic Exhortation. We need to make some radical adjustments in our understanding and ways of living this particular virtue of humility.*
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