Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Continual Struggle Against the Sin of Pride: Humility of Heart

by Fr. Cajetan Mary da Bergamo
translated by Herbert Cardinal Vaughan 
O God, Who resistest the proud and givest Thy grace to the humble, grant us the grace of true humility, of which Thine only begotten Son showed forth in Himself an example to the faithful, that we may never, puffed up by pride, incur Thine anger, but that, submissive to Thy Will, we may receive the gifts of Thy grace.
A few years ago, I began to feel I should more proactively seek the virtue of humility. I had encountered situations in which I recognized my pride was fostering discontent and disgruntlement in myself.

I talked to a few trusted friends and one of them shared a book our parish priest was currently reading focused on humility, Humility of Heart. I ordered it before Lent in 2015 thinking I'd read through it during Lent as my spiritual focus on humility. This is not the kind of book I could read quickly, especially as I failed to read it every day as had been my original intention.

Humility is a difficult virtue to understand. By its very nature, the moment a person believes herself humble, she is not. In our modern times, we tend to reject notions of our unworthiness, even before God, so humility is a virtue often cast aside or acknowledged only in words.

I have slowly read this book. It's broken up into short sections, excellently presented for a section or two of reading each day.

Am I more humble? I don't know. Maybe. I do know that I'm more likely to recognize my pride than before and to, sometimes at least, remind myself that everything good in my life and in my abilities, comes from God, a gift freely given but that ultimately still belongs to Him.
But must not all these gifts be regarded as so many benefits proceeding from God, for which we must render an account if we do not use them to resist temptation and conform to the ordination of God? We are debtors to God for every benefit that we receive and are bound to employ these gifts and to trade with them for the glory of God, like merchants to whom capital is entrusted. When we consider how many benefits, both of body and soul, we have received from Him, we are compelled to admit that there are so many debts which we have contracted toward Him--and why should we glory in our debts? 
Part 1 is the longest section of the book, focused on why humility is the primary virtue, the one from which all others flow and without which, we are doomed. The author is quite emphatic that the slightest bit of humility will bar the penitent from heaven. It seems like he qualifies this a bit here and there by saying we really need to just work toward humility and acknowledge our failures, but the tone was especially jarring for a modern reader. I'm not entirely sure he was wrong, but I'm not entirely sure he was right, either.
Let us therefore examine ourselves daily on this point: let us accuse ourselves of it in our Confessions, and acknowledging our pride in this manner will be an excellent incentive to become humble.
The author encourages frequent confession and explicit confession of sins against humility.
There are but few who accuse themselves of it [pride], but those who really wish to amend their lives should make it a special subject of their examen and Confession, in order to learn to hate it and repent of it and to make firm resolutions of amendment in the future.
There are a few helpful suggestions in Part 1, like frequent confession. There was also a mention of distractions during prayer I found particularly helpful.
There are some who are troubled because their prayers are full of distractions. This proceeds from pride, which is presumptuous enough to be astonished at the weakness and impotency of the mind. When you perceive that your thoughts are wandering, make an act of humility, and exclaim: "O my God, what an abject creature I am in not being able to fix my thoughts on Thee, even for a few moments." Renew this act of humility as often as these distractions occur, and if it is written of charity that it "covereth a multitude of sins," (1 Peter 4:8), it is also true of humility and contributes greatly to our perfection.
It reminded me of what St. Therese says of her tendency to fall asleep during her prayers: that the One who loves so much is still pleased with the desires of a little child who falls asleep at her tasks. I like this attitude, to apologize and refocus rather than berating ourselves for our distracted prayers.

For the most part, though, Part 1 was more theoretical than practical. Part 2 ushers in the Practical Examen on the Virtue of Humility, which begins immediately with a plan. The reader is urged to make the examen at least once a day, to choose a focus of one or two habits for each day, to clearly confess faults against humility in confession, and to return to this part often.

The remaining parts provide examens (which the internet assures me is the plural of examen) on humility toward God, toward our neighbor, toward oneself, and a final section on moral doctrine. Here I found many passages of practical advice in the form of questions focused on actions or thoughts I could identify in myself and therefore address.
Do you esteem yourself above others for any gift of nature, education or grace? That is true pride, and you must subdue this by humility, holding yourself inferior to others, as in fact you may be before God.
In the part on humility towards our neighbor, I found exactly how to respond when I sense I am being corrected, which has the benefit of being effective whether the correction is warranted.
The humble man, when he is reproved, receives the correction in good part and thanks him who has had the kindness and goodness to give it. He does not judge or speak evil of anyone, because he believes that everyone is better than he is, and because he knows he is capable of doing worse things still. 
Even if the comment is unsolicited, unfair, or outrageously incorrect, I can thank the giver and move on. There are other, probably worse, things that could truly be said, even if this particular comment is incorrect.
The proud man dwells more willingly on the little good he does, on the little devotion he feels, than on the thought of the evil he has committed and which he does daily. He puts behind him the multitude of his sins, so that he need not be ashamed and humble himself; and he reflects often upon certain of his minute exercises of Christian piety, so as to indulge his self-complacency.
Part 6, on moral doctrine, has an illuminating section on the "terrible danger" of the vice or pride (section 139 for those interested in looking it up). In it, the author outlines seven reasons why pride is so dangerous to our soul, all of which I found accurate in describing my own situation in life. The second one reads:
Because the other vices are to be feared only when we are disposed to evil; but pride, says St. Augustine, insinuates itself even when we are trying to do good.
A sentence or two later, the third is listed:
Because after having fought against and overcome the other vices, we may justly rejoice; but as soon as we begin to rejoice that we have triumphed over pride, it triumphs over us and becomes victorious over us in that very act for which we are praising ourselves for conquering it.
I believe re-reading this particular section will fortify my continuing battle against pride and in fostering humility.

A word of caution: If you know you have a tendency to scrupulosity, don't read this book or only read it under the care of a spiritual director. It discusses scrupulosity and certainly doesn't intend to play on those fears, but I believe it could nonetheless.

And, a confession: As I copied some of the quotes from this book into my commonplace book, I definitely gazed proudly at what I believed was beautiful handwriting.

So now it's time to start all over again on that humility thing.


  1. Sounds like a challenging and useful book. I've been thinking I need to examine my conscience more thoroughly. This sounds like a boom I should consider.

    I smiled at your last couple of lines '.....beautiful handwriting.....' :)

  2. Kansas Dad laughed out loud when I told him about my beautiful handwriting.


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