“We all know that the ‘divine glory of the ego’ is socially a great nuisance; we all do actually value our friends for modesty, freshness, and simplicity of heart.  Whatever may be the reason, we all do warmly respect humility — in other people.”

G. K. Chesterton

This Sunday’s readings remind us of the importance of the virtue of humility.  Jesus says, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)  I ran into the quote above from GK Chesterton when I did a search for quotes on humility and it made me laugh.  We laugh because there is some truth to the statement.  Lots of good things are good in or for other people!

On a more serious note, though, understanding the virtue of humility is sometimes difficult.  Living it on a daily basis even more so.  The saints are unanimous, however, in asserting that humility is essential in the spiritual life.  Take for instance, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility and the third is still humility.  Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are fruitless.” (St. Augustine)  Similarly, St. John Vianney says, “Humility is to the various virtues what the chain is in a rosary.  Take away the chain and the beads are scattered; remove humility, and all virtues vanish.” 

Just what is this virtue which the saints esteem so highly?  Perhaps my favorite definition comes from Rick Warren, summarizing CS Lewis’ thoughts, he writes, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  Catchy.  And profound.  Often times, we think that humility consists of downplaying our gifts and strengths.  But genuine humility frees us to put our gifts and strengths into the hands of God and allow him to direct our use of them for His glory.  On the flip side, humility also allows us to offer our weaknesses and our failures to God putting our trust in the words of St. Paul: “all things work for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).  It is to allow ourselves to “be a pencil in the hand of God” as Mother Teresa encourages.  Why are the humble content to merely be a pencil?  Because for the humble, it isn’t about them.  The humble one is “not thinking about himself at all.”  (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity) The humble person recognizes that to allow oneself to be an instrument in the hand of Almighty God is to be more than one could ever do on their own.  One who is humble can let go of control and the need to be admired.

In the Characteristics of a Stewardship Parish, we are encouraged to, “regularly discuss virtue, set forth examples of heroic virtue, and evaluate programs and policies in light of how they foster virtue.” (p. 14)  Do we regularly discuss humility? Set forth examples of those who practice this virtue well?  Do our programs and policies encourage humility?  These are important questions. 

When I was raising my children, I had the opportunity to explore many different curriculums, both old and new.  It struck me that children’s learning materials from a hundred years ago very overtly taught virtue in a way that modern materials do not.  It was clear that society, as a whole, had a sense of the importance of teaching virtue and most likely, a stronger consensus on what those virtues should be. That is no longer true in secular society. But in the Church, there remains clarity of vision.  We know the virtues.  We know their importance.  We know they are necessary for a life well-lived.  And the virtues will not be “absorbed” today in the same way they once were. In fact just the opposite is true.  What is being absorbed in the larger culture is often the antithesis of Christian virtue.  For these reasons, let’s be intentional in our parishes and in our families in sharing the beauty of the virtues, in taking every opportunity to talk about them, witness to them and encourage each other to live them well.

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