Saturday, December 29, 2012

True Humility

Gustav Dore's The Publican and the Pharisee
If you listen, Christ  will speak to you.  I heard Him very clearly when He told me what I must do to become truly humble.  The minute you give in to the temptation to judge another, you have squandered an opportunity to demonstrate true humility - that was the message delivered as I sat on a hard pew in a cold chapel before the Blessed Sacrament, early in December.

There is a saying that if a child is raised with criticism, he learns to be critical, and this is certainly true of me.  I won't delve into the particulars but suffice it to say that the only compliments I ever got growing up were of the left-handed variety.  Even now, I am particularly sensitive to the ticking glance of someone in search of any flaw or imperfection they can find in make-up that is not perfectly applied or a haircut that is not entirely even or clothing that does not fit as it once did.  At some point, you either don't want to be around the perfectionist or you choose to ignore the litany of  faults that the person feels compelled to hand you each time you are in the their company.

This past September I endured what was surely one of the more difficult trials of my life.  I survived intact only with the grace and strength supplied by God, the support of family and the never-ending prayers and daily messages of hope sent to me by a dear friend who once experienced a similar trial.  One must  live through such a thing to know what it is like.  Yet as difficult and wholly unexpected as this was, I realized I was being given a special gift, a cross few ever carry,  an opportunity to stand falsely accused, to be despised and unwanted and to stand in silence rather than engage the accusers.  I did not emerge from this trial unscathed, but if it's true that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger,  this enterprise surely had that effect on me.

In the end, I was able to walk away, vindicated, and the worth that had been overlooked in someone's haze of resentment came to be recognized.  There is nothing quite like being brought low to enable one to see one's own shortcomings.  Rather spending my energy trying to justify or defend myself, I made a conscious decision to turn inward and assume, even if only briefly, that there was an element of truth in the laundry list of faults I was presumed to have.  Admittedly, my first reaction was nothing like this.  My immediate response was to want to return the favor in kind by pointing out the faults of the accuser.  Thankfully, I turned immediately to Christ to beg His help in weathering this storm.  His Presence, while It could not be felt, was assured.

As St. John tells us, if we say we have no fault, we have deceived ourselves.  I know that while I can fool myself for awhile, I cannot fool Christ.  I decided the best way I could honor Him in all of this was to overlook the faults of others - to ignore the speck in their eyes, in other words - and mind the log in my own.    Every single time I felt impatience with someone's slowness of wit or action, I bit my tongue.  Each barb fired at me verbally or in an email was responded to with overwhelming sweetness.  If people were going to think the worst of me, I would do nothing to validate their beliefs.  And I would look for the best in them.

Perhaps the greatest gift that came out of all of this was gratitude for all the things I have taken for granted, from an imperfect husband who loves me unconditionally to a friend I seldom see but whose prayers and words of consolation kept me afloat.  I also came to appreciate exactly what St Therese meant when she said that without Christ, she could do nothing at all but be little and weak.

With God's grace, I chose to accept this trial as an invitation to become a better disciple, one who might, in the end, more closely resemble her Beloved than herself.

It is humbling but necessary to realize that any worth we have comes not from ourselves, whatever the temptation to pat one's self on the back may be.  This trick of pride is most insidious.  We know better, yet we succumb to the temptation to think ourselves superior to someone else because we kneel for Holy Communion or we say our Rosary without fail or have no difficulty getting to Mass every First Friday.  We may not confess to others how much we want to congratulate ourselves every time we think we have overcome some spiritual weakness.  As St Faustine wrote in her diary, without Christ's help, we would not even be capable of accepting His graces.  Why then, would we ever take credit for any spiritual progress we've made?

The greatest threat to humility is pride, and it is pride that leads us to believe we can and should judge another.  I am grateful for this epiphany and beg God's help that I should never forget it.


  1. I so agree that pride is the biggest and tricksiest thing to deal with. I find that even my good acts tend to have prideful motives beneath. Always something in it for me!

  2. Pride is my biggest sin. I most definitely struggle with it. I don't think I would have been able to bear the cross you just did. I'm glad it's worked out for you.


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