ALL WISH TO BE “HUMBLE,” BUT FEW TO BE “HUMBLED.”
The humility of St. Teresa was not the sort that some possess, who, although entertaining, in some instances, a lowly opinion of themselves, and expressing it also before others, yet cannot bear that others should publish their defects and subject them to contempt. No. The Saint, like all souls that are really humble, regarded herself, and wished to be regarded and treated by others as a vile creature. She even went so far as to say that there was no music more pleasing to her ears than the reproaches addressed to her in regard to her defects. She was frequently the object of contempt and of opprobrious treatment; and on such occasions her soul, truly humble as it was, took greater delight in seeing herself despised than if she had been praised and honoured. How often, in establishing those monasteries, whereby she procured so much glory to God, how often were insults heaped upon her as a hypocrite, a liar, a proud woman, and one filled with illusions! And this, too, as it once happened, from the pulpit, and in her own presence. The Pope’s Nuncio, in a fit of anger, went so far as to enjoin upon her to retire into a monastery, and not to go out of it any more, telling her that she was a restless and vagabond woman. She shut herself up, as she was bidden, without making any defence, satisfied in having met with contempt and confusion.
On another occasion an accusation was brought before the Inquisition against her as a sorceress and a witch. Having also heard a certain Religious laying many evils to her charge, she answered: “If this Father had known me, he might have said much more against me.” On her entrance into Seville, she was at first an object of contempt and displeasure, whereupon she said: “Blessed be God! Here they know me to be what I am.” Elsewhere she writes: “So far am I from wishing ill to any of those that spoke evil of me, it seems to me as if I entertained for them even a greater love than I did before.”
While the Saint was arranging about the foundation at Burgos, she was one day passing along a narrow footpath, on which there happened to be a certain woman. She asked her permission to pass by; but this woman, seeing her clad in raiment that bespoke the greatest poverty, said to her, “Go along, you hypocrite”; and then, with a rough push, caused her to fall into the muddy channel. The Saint’s companions wished to rebuke the woman, but she took her part, saying: “My daughters, hold your peace. Do you not perceive that this woman has acted very rightly?” On another occasion she was in a church, and certain persons wishing to pass by, she did not take heed to rise sufficiently soon from the place where she was kneeling, whereupon they kicked against her, and so made her move to another part of the church. Another woman who had lost one of her shoes, fancying that Teresa had stolen it from her, had the impudence to strike her on the face with the other shoe. All this the Saint tranquilly received, better contented with these insults than a man of the world would be at receiving the greatest honours. The tribunal of the Rota has even attested that the greater the offences she received from others, the more they drew her love upon themselves. So much so, indeed, was this the case that it was a common saying that, in order to be loved by Teresa, it was necessary to treat her in a humiliating and injurious manner.
All wish to be humble, but there are few who wish to be humbled. St. Ignatius of Loyola was sent from heaven by the Most Holy Virgin, to give the following counsel to St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi: “Humility is the joy that we feel at everything that leads us to despise ourselves.” This is what is meant by being humble of heart, as Jesus Christ teaches us to be — namely, to regard ourselves as what we really are, and to wish that others may look upon us and treat us in the same way.
Behold, then, for the practice of humility, the following most important maxims, which are borrowed from the Saint herself:
1. To avoid every occupation and every conversation that can in any way have to do with self-love, unless some notable utility oblige us to enter upon it. The Saint enjoins, nevertheless, that we should never put ourselves forward, excepting under obedience, or from motives of charity.
2. Never to manifest our interior devotion, unless through some great necessity; and never to affect outwardly a devotion that is not in the heart.
3. To rejoice on beholding ourselves the object of complaints, of insults and of mockeries, without seeking to justify ourselves, unless this be necessary for some greater good; “and when we are reproved,” says the Saint, “let us receive the reproof with interior as well as exterior humility, offering up a prayer to God for him by whom we are reprimanded.”
4. To ask unceasingly of God what St. John of the Cross prayed for — to be despised for His love.
5. Finally, not to expect that the senses and the inferior part of the soul should find satisfaction in this; but to act according to reason, contenting ourselves with pleasing God; and for this it is especially useful to exercise ourselves during prayer in preparing ourselves for contempt of every description; and to pray earnestly to Jesus and Mary to grant us the fulfilment of our good resolutions on the occasions that may present themselves.