High and Low

Part 8

 

(Humility)


Charity or Humility? There was a polite but persistent discussion among medieval theologians as to which was the most important of the virtues charity or humility? Those who "sided" with charity pointed out its excellence, its theological importance, its divine origin, its enduring character. Those who thought humility ranked higher emphasized its absolute necessity in the practice of all the other virtues, including charity. One author even sought to solve the question by noting that Charity is humble.

 

Actually, charity and humility are equally present on the summit of Christian perfection. For when the God who is love took human flesh, He revealed Himself as humble. Love Incarnate specified, as a matter of fact, that the one thing fallen humanity needed to learn directly from Him was HUMILITY: Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.


When Francis of Assisi began his intensive study of the Gospel which was to last a lifetime our Lord's priority lesson quickly became his primary focus. A wise and holy Franciscan scholar once noted that while other saints speak of stages of HUMILITY or steps to HUMILITY, Francis simply plunged into HUMILITY, so eager was he to learn from his meek and humble Teacher.


Sometimes it seems that the opposite of HUMILITY which is pride can have as many forms and expressions as there are people infected by original sin, which is all of us! Nevertheless, the Little Poor Man offers three very basic principles that can be applied to everyone's struggle to allow the HUMILITY of Jesus to shape and transform our lives.


Who are You, my dearest Lord, and what am I?
HUMILITY is truth, and its foundation is a right relationship with God. St. Francis' heartfelt query, Who are You and what am I? opened the way for a deeply personal relationship with the God who created him, redeemed him, loved him and sanctified him. Francis' Who are You? reminds us, quite simply, that God is God, the All-High, All-Good God, our Creator, Father, Savior and Sanctifier. Honestly answering the question what am I? led Francis not only to admit but also to glory in his creatureliness, his sinfulness, his utter dependence on God.


A man is what he is before God, no more and no less. Francis had these words constantly before him, St. Bonaventure tells us in his biography of the saint of Assisi. Francis' right relationship with God also rightly ordered his dealings with those God had placed in his life. Pride urges us to work for what shows, to gauge our actions by human respect, to camouflage our weakness, to justify our faults, to rationalize our sins. The humble Francis shows us a better, braver way to live by simply recalling, deeply and often, that we are what we are before God and to act accordingly.


Holy and just Father, we thank You for Yourself
.- Pride is sneaky, an old confessor used to say. We can even be proud of our efforts to be humble! St. Francis teaches a sure way to HUMILITY: gratitude! Gratitude firmly establishes us in the truth which is HUMILITY precisely because it grounds us in a right relationship with God who has given us EVERYTHING. Most of us do not seek or savor humiliations. We find it difficult to be fools for Christ. Even admitting our errors or accepting correction can be difficult. But if we make the effort, day in and day out, to thank God, to count our blessings, to express our gratitude to others, we are already on the way to becoming humble. Time invested in gratitude is time imbued with HUMILITY. It is time well spent in the school of our humble Lord, preparing us, as it did St. Francis, to live eternally with God who is HUMILITY.



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