I. THE ADVANTAGES OF HUMILITY
Humility has been regarded by the Saints as the basis and guardian of all virtues. Although in point of excellence the virtue of humility does not hold the highest rank, still, according to St. Thomas, because it is the foundation of all virtues it has obtained the first place among them. Hence, as in the structure of an edifice, the foundation takes precedence of the walls, and even of the golden ornaments, so, to expel pride, which God resists, humility must, in the edification of the spiritual man, precede all other virtues. “Humility,” says the angelic Doctor, “holds the first place, inasmuch as it expels pride, which God resists.” Hence, St. Gregory asserts that “he who gathers virtues without humility is like the man who carries chaff against the wind.” His virtues shall be scattered.
There was in the desert a certain hermit who had a high character for sanctity. At the hour of death he sent for the abbot, and asked from him the Viaticum. During the administration of the Holy Sacrament a public robber ran to the cell; but seized with compunction for his sins, he esteemed himself unworthy to enter, or to be present at so sacred a ceremony, and in the humility of his soul exclaimed: “Oh that I were what you are!” The dying monk heard the words, and, swelled with pride, said: “Happy, indeed, should you be were you as holy as I am.” After these words he expired: the robber immediately ran off from the place for the purpose of going to Confession, but on his way he fell over a precipice and was killed. At the death of the hermit his companion burst into tears; but at the fate of the robber he exulted with joy. Being asked why he wept over the death of the former and rejoiced at the melancholy end of the latter, he replied: Because the robber was saved by contrition for his past sins, but my companion is damned in punishment of his pride. Do not imagine that the hermit yielded to pride only at the hour of death: from his last words it is clear that pride had long before taken root in his heart; by its baneful influence he was brought to a miserable eternity. “Unless,” says St. Augustine, “humility shall have preceded, shall be continued, and shall have followed, pride will wrest the whole from our hands.” Yes, the rapacious grasp of pride will tear from us every good work which is not preceded, accompanied, and followed by humility.
This sublime virtue was but little known, but little loved, and greatly abhorred on earth, where pride, the cause of the ruin of Adam and of his posterity, enjoyed universal sway. Therefore, the Son of God came down from Heaven to teach it to men by His example as well as by His preaching. To instruct them in humility he came upon earth in the likeness of flesh and in the form of a servant. He emptied himself, says the Apostle, taking the form of a servant (Phil. ii. 7). He wished to be treated as the most contemptible of men. Despised, says the Prophet Isaias, and the most abject of men (Is. liii. 3). Behold Him in Bethlehem, born in a stable and laid in a manger; in Nazareth, poor, unknown, and employed in the humble occupation of assisting a poor artisan. Look at Him in Jerusalem, scourged as a slave, buffeted as the vilest of men, crowned with thorns as a mock king, and in the end suffering as a malefactor the ignominious death of the Cross. And with all His humiliations before your eyes, hearken to His advice: I have given you an example, that as I have done so you do also. (Jo. xiii. 15). My children, I have embraced so much ignominy that you may not refuse abjection. Speaking of the humiliations of the Son of God, St. Augustine says: “If this medicine cure not your pride, I know not what will heal it.” Hence in one of his epistles to Dioscorus he tells his friends that it is principally by his humility a man is made the disciple of Jesus, and that the soul is prepared for a union with God. “The first,” says the Saint, “is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility; and as often as you would ask I should answer, humility.”