‘Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.” This saying of Jesus, coming as the conclusion of a parable that had criticised the presumption of those who took the best places for themselves at a wedding feast, pinpointed pride as the greatest stumbling block to salvation.
Sinful human nature is best illustrated by the fact that, almost from our first breath, we are subject to an inordinate desire to be the centre of attention. Anyone who has witnessed the wilful antics of a toddler can scarcely doubt this.
Wisdom, maturity and humility come from the realisation that, whilst we are born to love and be loved, we are not the centre of the universe, and to live in such a manner is selfish idolatry.
The repeated sayings of Jesus, that the last should be first, that we should seek to serve rather than be served, underlined the central truth of the Cross. We are only truly alive when, in Christ, we have died to every selfish inclination. Humility is not a false self-abasement. It is the surrender of ourselves to the Lord, so that, in his saving grace, we find our true value as the children of God.
The Book of Ecclesiasticus clearly understood humility as a strength rather than a weakness.
“My Son, be gentle in carrying out your business, and you will be greater loved than a lavish giver. The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly, and then you will find favour with the Lord.”
Pride was seen as a poison that imprisons the heart in a mindless circle of envy and recrimination.
“There is no cure for the proud man’s malady, since an evil growth has taken root in him.”
Ultimately the humility for which we strive is rooted in Christ, who did not cling to his equality with God, but humbled himself, even unto his death, death on a cross.
His affirmation came not from himself, but from the Father who raised him high, giving him a name above every other name.
Pride cannot resist comparing itself with others. Humility rejoices in the Lord and those he has entrusted to us.
This article first appeared in the August 26 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.
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