III. ADVANTAGES OF HUMILITY
St. Teresa relates of herself, that the greatest graces she received from God were infused into her soul when she humbled herself most before the Lord in prayer. The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds, and he will not depart till the Most High behold (Ecclus. xxxv. 21). The humble obtain from God whatever they ask: they need not be afraid of being confounded, or of being left without consolation. Let not, says David, the humble be turned away with confusion (Ps. lxxiii. 21). Hence, St. Joseph Calasanctius used to say: “If you wish to be a saint, be humble; if you wish to be a very great saint, be most humble.” To St. Francis Borgia, while a secular, a holy man once said: “If you desire to be a saint, never let a day pass without thinking on your miseries.” Hence the Saint spent every day, the first two hours of prayer in the study of his own nothingness, and in sentiments of self-contempt.
St. Gregory says “that pride is the most evident mark of the reprobate; but humility is, on the contrary, the most evident mark of the elect.” Seeing the world covered with the toils of the devil, St. Anthony, with a sigh, exclaimed: “Who can escape so many snares!” “Anthony,” replied a voice, “it is only humility that passes through them with security: the humble man is not in danger of being ensnared.” In a word, unless we are like infants, not in years but in humility, we shall never attain salvation. Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. xviii. 3). In the life of St. Palemon it is related that a certain monk who walked on burning coals said to his companions: Which of you can tread on red-hot fire without being burnt. The Saint reproved him for his vanity, but the unhappy man did not amend. Puffed up with pride, he afterwards fell into sin, and died without repentance.
To the humble who are despised and persecuted on earth is promised the glory of God’s kingdom. Blessed are ye when they shall revile and persecute you … for your reward is very great in heaven (Matt. v. 11-12). The humble shall be happy in this life as well as in the next. Learn of me, says Jesus, because I am meek and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls (Matt. xi. 29). The proud never enjoy peace, because they never receive the respect or attention which a vain opinion of their own greatness makes them regard as their due. When loaded with honours, they are not content; either because they see others still more exalted, or, because they desire some unattainable dignity, the absence of which is to them a source of torture, not to be removed by the gratification arising from all the honours they enjoy. Great, indeed, was the glory of Aman, in the court of Assuerus, where he sat at the monarch’s table. But, because Mardochai would not salute him, he was unhappy. And whereas I have all these things, I think I have nothing so long as I see Mardochai, the Jew, sitting before the king’s gate (Esth. v. 13). Being the result of constraint and of human respect, the honour shown to the great does not give true joy. “True glory,” says St. Jerome, “like a shadow, follows virtue: it flies from all who grasp at it, and seeks after those who despise it.”
The humble man is always content, because whatever respect is paid to him he deems to be above his merits, and whatever contempt may be offered him he regards as far short of what is due to his sins. In all humility he exclaims with holy Job: I have sinned, and indeed I have offended, and I have not received what I have deserved (Job xxxiii. 27). Previous to a long journey which he was obliged to make, St. Francis Borgia was advised to dispatch a courier, who would secure accommodation for his master at the hotels where he intended to stop. “I never,” replied the saint, “fail to send my courier before me. But do you know who he is? My courier is the thought of hell, which my sins have merited; this thought makes every lodging appear to me a palace in comparison of the dungeon to which I deserve to be condemned.”