Humility is the foundation upon which everything else in the contemplative life rests. It is the beginning and end of wisdom, the highest virtue and yet the lowest status. Humility is like a delicate flower which shines with vibrant colour in the sunlight. It is the most precious jewel in the crown of the Prince of Peace. It is the fulfilment of all human striving. To be humble is to be rooted and grounded in love.
The humble soul sees the immensity of God and how small it is in comparison. It is content with very little and is nothing other than its authentic self. Humility is a state of being, an inner condition of truth. The humble soul always desires to grow in virtue. It never imagines that it has completed the race. It sees itself with a simple mind, it does not exaggerate its own greatness or its own smallness. It knows its own struggles and shortcomings and responds to them with wisdom. It does not fight with itself or anyone else. It rejoices in the love of God and participates in that love by its own patience and generosity. Humility makes us meek.
Meekness is always the shortest distance between two people. It listens to the wisdom of others and admits when it is wrong. It does not boast or brag, it does not imagine it is better than anyone else. It does not judge anyone or make presumptions. It forgives people before they are sorry. It is gentle with all people, even those who are violent. It eats what it is served without complaining. It works diligently and does not ask for any credit. It creates community by its love for others and the way it does not draw attention to itself. It has nothing to prove and therefore nothing to lose.
Without humility no other virtue can be said to be true. If we are charitable but do so for our own ego, then we are not truly charitable. If we compliment others but do so to win their favour, then we are not truly kind. If we are pious and devout but parade our righteousness all over social media, then we are not truly righteous. Pelagius described this exceedingly well when he said,
“Truly you must follow humility, not the kind that is displayed and simulated by bodily gesture or by subduing the utterance of one’s words but that which is expressed in the natural disposition of one’s heart. For it is one thing to pursue the shadow of things, another the reality. The pride which hides beneath outward signs of humility is made much more ugly thereby. For, by some means or other, vices are more unsightly when they are concealed behind an outward semblance of virtue.“ (Trans by Rees)
False humility only hurts us in the end. It deepens the wound of pride in our souls rather than healing it. True humility, on the other hand, accompanies every goodness. The first step in the pursuit of humility is to be vulnerable. Vulnerable with others and with ourselves. Vulnerability is the means by which true humility and false humility can be distinguished from one another.
False humility protects our wounds so that they are hidden from others, and even from ourselves. It is a pretence behind which we hide our brokenness. True humility, on the other hand, is an attitude of honesty and self awareness. One which speaks the truth rather than covering it up. We are vulnerable when we have the courage to name those things we are afraid to say out loud. When we step out of the shadows of shame, prejudice, vanity, and pride into the light of Christ.
Christ was supremely vulnerable. He chose to share the two most vulnerable moments of human life with us – birth and death – and then taught us to be like little children and to pick up our crosses. To be hung from the cross is to be completely exposed. Yet, Christ was not shamed by his vulnerability, like his executioners had hoped he would be. Rather, his vulnerability led him to new life. We all begin in complete vulnerability as little babies dependent upon others. We begin in humility and we end in humility. This is why both birth and death are used to describe the mind of Christ. To put on the mind of Christ is to die before we die and also to be born again.
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