Both Holy Scripture and the writings of the classical Christian masters emphasize the fact that the virtue of humility is the keystone of spiritual renewal. Here, for example, are the prophetic words of the Apostle Paul, who says in Philippians 2:5-8:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
Not to humble ourselves as Jesus did is to risk missing the opportunity of being “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds, so that [we] may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Humility aids such discernment by reminding us that we owe all that we are and all that we do to God. It prevents us from ever adopting an “I can do it alone” mentality. It fosters our reliance on grace and increases our desire to give our life to the service of God and neighbor.
Whereas pride denies the truth of our total dependence on God, humility preserves it. Scripture assures us that God leads the humble to discern what is right (see Psalm 25:9) and adorns the humble with victory (see Psalm 149:4).
To humble ourselves before the Lord (see James 4:10) is to live the paradox that “…all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Humility shows us that the way to be perfected in Christ is by:
- Treating our limits as graced openings to deeper union with God.
- Learning to listen to both compliments and criticisms with equanimity and good humor.
- Seeing with docility the providential meanings disclosed in troublesome situations.
- Letting ourselves be clothed with “compassion, kindness…meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).
Abnegation of self-centeredness frees us to imitate Christ and to live in joyful obedience to the will of God. This transition from “me” to “mystery-centeredness” may compel us to awaken from the illusion of self-sufficiency. The shift from pride to humility may not be easy, but its rewards are beyond measure. For only then, as the Apostle Paul says, may we “have the power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).
More than routine regret for this or that sin, humility arouses in our heart the truth that in the end we are only useless servants, who are wholly dependent on the mercy and forgiveness of God.
Only to the degree that this virtue reveals itself in our matching character can we let go of any semblance of lukewarm faith, embrace the cross, and accept with renewed fervor Christ’s commission to go forth and teach the nations (see Matthew 28:19-20).
God cannot compel this act of trust; it is ours to acknowledge or resist, but once we commit ourselves to pursue ongoing spiritual renewal, its healing effects will prove to be lasting.
The temptation to remain complacent may persist for a while, but every time we choose to become a “new creation” (Galatians 6:15), we deepen our grasp of what the apostle Paul meant when he proclaimed: “The life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me…I will not treat God’s gracious gift as pointless” (Galatians 2:20-21).
We remember in this light the evangelist, Corrie ten Boom, who was able to turn her debilitating experiences in a Nazi concentration camp into the keystone of her mission to prove that “Jesus is Victor!”
One lesson she brought home, by illustrating it with her own purse, was this:
“How easy it is to unpack my trouble bag each morning and cast all my cares on the Father because he cares for me. But then, as the day goes on, I keep coming back and picking up first this care and then that one, slipping them back into my bag. By the end of the day, I am just as burdened as I was at the beginning, and far more exhausted. What about you? …is your heart still as burdened and heavy as it was before you prayed? Did you repack your bag as soon as you emptied it? The Holy Spirit will teach you how to pray and leave your burdens with the Lord.”
John of the Cross confirms this call to walk in the truth of who we are. He says in The Ascent of Mount Carmel that we must operate from the center of our humility. By that he means that every diminishment of our pride-form, of “control-center me,” liberates the Christ-form in us since Baptism.
Is not this liberation the main reason why we pray daily to become little words in that eternal, everlasting Word, inspired by saints and spiritual masters, who teach us to say:
Divine Child, may the seeds of holiness
planted in us by our baptismal grace
be harvested in humility.
Give us the courage to treat all people with respect
and to be the children of God we were meant to be.
Warn us when the serpent of vainglory poisons our heart.
Shield us from entrapment in harsh judgmentalism and disrespectful condemnation.
Wrap us in your mantle of peace
that we may rest in humility,
the keystone of spiritual renewal and the portal to heaven.