1 – General reflections.
We know how important the virtue of humility is in our spirituality, in our community and in a life of service. It is an essential characteristic of the true believer. There are many biblical, theological and Vincentian references that help us to better actualize and live out the aspects of this virtue in our life. We refer in particular to some of these aspects.
- The Humble Christ: ‘Learn from me, I am meek and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29). It is the theme of Christ, a great example model for each of us. When and how was Christ humble and taught us humility? Let’s think about the great moments of his life: the Incarnation, the life hidden in Nazareth, the Passion, Death, the presence in the Eucharist. His whole itinerary of “lowering, emptying” is understood to make himself similar to us (see Phil 2,5-8), to make himself servant not only of God but of every man.
- Mary, the humble servant. This title and ‘new name’ qualify Mary as the Virgin, both in the Annunciation (Lk 1:38) and in the Magnificat (Lk 1:48). She then manifests herself throughout all her life hidden away in Nazareth. It is precisely the Virgin’s humility that attracts the merciful and paternal ‘look’ of God on her and makes Mary capable of ‘singing’ the raising up of the humble, to the detriment of the proud and powerful (Lk 1,51- 52).
- St. Vincent, model and master of humility. This is what touches us most personally, given all the references to our own lifestyle, inspired by the charism of charity. And as happens with all the saints, any lack is preceded and matched by the testimony of his life, by the gestures and choices that the Saint was able to make and live out to conform to the model of humility that is the Christ himself.
- The existential dimension of humility. We know that St. Vincent said that humility is more often admired than imitated, since nobody enjoys being passed over or ignored. Such a perspective changes if we start with the word’s dictional meaning and roots. Humility comes from the Latin humus, and means fertile, or fertile field. It follows that humility is really fruitfulness rather than aridity. To be humble is to be a fertile field that produces the fruits of the Spirit. Being humble does not mean abdicating one’s thinking, nor one’s ways of seeing and acting. Instead, it is knowing how to accept one’s own limits and at the same time to be able to recognize the gifts of God in us and in others. Humility is asking: “what can I give to others?” In fact, each of us has received gifts that are irreplaceable and that we must know how to make available to others. If we betray or renounce our uniqueness and specificity we are not humble, even if it is important to always work in harmony and in collaboration with others. Humility means accepting life with a sunny disposition, with joy, with enthusiasm, desiring to make life available to others. All that we have received must be able to mature in our personal soil which, if it is’ humble ‘, is also fertile’. The humble person’s pride is the most astonishing thing, both in this world as well as before God.
2 – Humility, the foundation of our most important spiritual attitudes.
We find, both in Scripture and in St. Vincent, that the virtue of humility is essential to authentically live out our vocation as children of God. It places us in the right place with regard to God and neighbor and ourselves, without for this want and have to mortify ourselves. Acts of humiliation are only an aspect, almost secondary, of spiritual importance and commitment. We must immediately say that humility is not:
- exhibiting hypocritical servility, to increase one’s vainglory;
• exhibiting an alleged ‘sanctity’ made up of legalism and unjustified deprivation;
• manifesting a showy religiosity, suspicious because it seeks applause and consideration;
• underestimating itself with respect to reality, it is not expressing an inferiority complex;
• only synonym of modesty which is a human virtue only, while humility is a spiritual virtue;
• being sentimental or tolerating evil; instead it takes so much strength and courage in the face of evil, because being humble does not mean being weak.
Let’s see then how humility shapes and directs the believer’s attitudes and lifestyle.
> It is the virtue of personal balance. Also, for St. Vincent humility is the search for truth and the quintessential virtue of balance; in fact, it leads to ‘seeing, recognizing and accepting oneself as one is’. The path that leads to a true knowledge of oneself is so important, because it joins together a just feeling of one’s situation and the recognition of what God is for us. For this it is necessary to denounce and remove any forms of pride, ambition, vanity, illusions and lies. Therefore, humility concerns balancing ‘knowledge of oneself and trust in God’.
> It is indispensable for living a right relationship with God. God looks at the humble and turns on them; the humble will be exalted. ‘As soon as a heart is empty of itself, God fills it; God remains and works there ‘(SV, PE, 517). Only in humility does an attitude of trust and abandonment in God be born and mature. Only in this way can we express ourselves in a filial prayer that generates peace and inner serenity. The proud man does not feel the need to pray because he does not feel the vision and plan of God. But each act of faith is possible only if we present ourselves humbly before the God of Revelation, who makes us understand that only in Him is there salvation, and we must welcome Him as necessary for our life.
> It helps to achieve a true fraternal communion. Living together, sharing many diversities, requires a great capacity for acceptance and recognition of the value and limits of others. Making space for others’ means knowing how to give up one’s partial and limited views, as well as one’s ambitions. Building fraternal life ‘day by day’, with the gift of self and the commitment of each and every one (see Constitutions Daughters of Charity: 32), means accepting a commitment made of renunciation, mortification and conversion, in order not to put oneself at the center of the caution. Humility preserves charity.
> Humility is then the virtue of service, both for actual charitable activity and for evangelization. For St. Vincent it is the professional quality par excellence of the Missionary and of the Daughter of Charity: ‘Servant’, because it allows each of us to put ourself in the right way when in the presence of our ‘lords and teachers’, who are the poor – it is to them whom the Lord sends us. Serving is never easy, for this we must ‘become servants’ like the Christ, and this attitude is linked to humility. Therefore, humility is the true practice, the true badge and the true identity card for every Missionary, for the Daughter of Charity and for all lay members of the Vincentian Family, as it is for every true Christian.
> For St. Vincent there is also a humility that concerns the Congregation as a whole. Recalling the origins of its foundations, St. Vincent notes that everything was born in a humble and simple way and everything must continue to develop following the same logic. Remaining small and hidden, allowing other communities to go ahead of us, rejecting all praise and approval, always placing ourselves in last place, this is what the Saint demanded of his Communities and proposes again today, even if the context has changed.
> It is the virtue of Jesus Christ, our most admirable exemplar. We must look to him to learn to be humble like him, bearing in mind both his example and his teachings. This is why we recognize that humility must be the object of our prayer: we must ask it of God, because it is a gift that comes from above and not so much the fruit of our ascetic effort.
To continue the reflection.
I meditate on Christ, Mary, the Saints, our Founders, as models of true humility. With their help I recognize that humility, together with simplicity and charity, is the way to let yourself be led by the Spirit. I ask myself: can I accept my own and others’ limits? Can I recognize good wherever it occurs? Am I humble before God, the sisters and confreres, the poor? Do I often act as a boss? Do I lack a true attitude of ‘service’ when relating with those who live in poverty? What am I willing to do to improve my relationship with others, starting with my own family and community?
Mario di Carlo, CM
Province of Italy
Translation: Dan Paul Borlik, CM
Western Province, USA