II. ITS ADVANTAGES
The proud are objects of hatred and abomination before God. Every proud man, says the Holy Ghost, is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. xvi. 5). Yes; for the proud man is a robber, and is blind; he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. He is a robber, because he appropriates to himself what belongs to God. What hast thou that thou hast not received? (1 Cor. iv. 7). Would it not be the extreme of folly in a brute animal, were it gifted with reason, to glory in the gilded trappings of which it knows it may be stripped at the beck of its master? The proud man is blind, as we learn from the Apocalypse of St. John. Thou sayest: I am rich … and knowest not that thou art wretched and blind (Apoc. iii. 17). And what has man of his own but nothingness and sin? Even the little good he does, when examined with rigour, will appear full of imperfection. “All our justice,” says St. Bernard, “if rigorously judged, will be found to be injustice.” Lastly, the proud man is a liar, and the truth is not in him. For all his advantages, whether of nature — such as health, talent, beauty, and the like; or of grace — such as good desires, a docile heart, and an enlightened mind, are all the gifts of God. By the grace of God, says St. Paul, I am what I am (1 Cor. xv. 10). The same Apostle tells us that of ourselves we are not capable of even a good thought. Not that we are sufficient to think anything of ourselves as of ourselves (2 Cor. iii. 5).
To preserve His servants from pride, the Lord sometimes permits them to be afflicted with the shameful solicitations of the flesh; to their repeated prayers to be delivered from the suggestions of Satan and of their own corruption He appears deaf, and leaves them to combat with the temptation. It was thus God treated St. Paul; and, says the Saint, lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given to me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me, and he said to me, my grace is sufficient for thee (2 Cor. xii. 7, 8, 9). “To keep him humble,” says St. Jerome, “the Almighty refused to deliver the Apostle from the molestation of the flesh by which he was tormented.” Moreover, to teach them humility, the Lord sometimes permits the elect to fall into sin. Thus David acknowledges that he sinned because he had not been humble. Before I was humbled, I offended (Ps. cxviii. 67).
“God,” says St. Augustine, “sits on high; you humble yourself, and He descends to you; you exalt yourself, and He flies from you.” The royal Prophet says that the Lord looketh on the low, and the high he knoweth afar off (Ps. cxxxvii. 6). He regards the humble with the affectionate eye, but the proud He beholds only at a distance. As we cannot recognize a person whom we see afar off, so the Lord appears to tell the proud, in the words of the Psalmist, that He knows them not.
The proud are hateful before God; He cannot bear them. As soon as the Angels yielded to pride, He banished them from Paradise and sent them into hell, far distant from His presence. The words of God must be fulfilled: Whosoever, says the Lord, shall exalt himself, shall be humbled (Matt. xxiii. 12). St. Peter Damian relates that a certain proud man had resolved to assert his right to an estate by single combat; before the time appointed for the duel he went to Mass, and hearing in the church the above-mentioned words of the Gospel: Whosoever shall exalt himself, shall be humbled, he exclaimed: This cannot be true: for had I humbled myself I should have lost my property and my character. But when he came to the combat, his sacrilegious tongue was cut across by the sword of his antagonist, and he instantly fell dead.
God, says St. James, resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble (James iv. 6). The Lord has promised to hear the prayers of all. Every one that asketh, receiveth (Luke xi. 10). The proud God hears not; according to the Apostle, He resists their petitions. But to the humble He is liberal beyond measure: He giveth grace to the humble. To them God opens His hands, and grants whatsoever they ask or desire. Humble thyself to God, says the Holy Ghost, and wait for his hands (Ecclus. xiii. 9). Humble your soul before the Lord, and expect from His hands whatever you seek.
“Give me, O Lord,” exclaims St. Augustine, “the treasure of humility.” Humility is a treasure, because upon the humble the Lord pours every blessing in abundance. A heart full of self cannot be replenished with the gifts of God. To receive the Divine favours, the soul must be first emptied by the knowledge of her own nothingness. Thou sendest forth, says David, springs in the vales: between the midst of the hills the waters shall pass (Ps. viii. 10). God makes the waters of His graces abound in the valleys, that is, in humble souls, but not on the mountains, the emblems of the proud and the haughty. In the midst of these, His graces pass, but remain not on them. Because, says Mary, he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid … He that is mighty hath done great things to me (Luke i. 48, 49). The Lord, looking upon my humility, and my sense of nothingness, hath bestowed great favours on me.