“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.” — C.S. Lewis
Humility: the hallmark of the saints
Humility is that ever elusive hallmark of the saints. Associated with the virtue of temperance, it is the virtue that as soon as you brag about having attained it, you know you have lost it (or never had it at all). Lent is perhaps the perfect opportunity to reflect on and strive to develop humility. Without it, we will fall short of heaven. But just how do you acquire this important aspect of holiness?
To answer this question we can look to the saints for assistance, namely St. Josemaria Escriva, and Mother Teresa. Both of these powerhouses of prayer and holiness have given us guidelines and suggestions on how to both know if we are achieving humility (or how short we are falling from it), and how we can go about developing this saintly attribute in our own lives.
First, though, let’s briefly discuss why being humble is so important.
Why be humble?
“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Luke 11:29). These words of the Lord are very clear. Jesus asks us to be like him and to learn from him, and the two aspects of his character that he specifically mentions for us to imitate are his meekness and His humility.
St. Francis de Sales explained it this way: “Humility makes us acceptable to God, and meekness makes us acceptable to men.” St. Bernard defines humility as the “virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is, abases himself. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of Humility.” In other words, humility is that virtue which allows us to see and know the Truth about ourselves. St. Teresa of Avila, in her Interior Castle, explained,
“I was wondering once, why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden—without, I believe, my having previously thought of it—the following reason came into my mind: that it is because God is sovereign truth and to be humble is to walk in truth.”Interior Castle, VI, 10
St. Augustine further explained why humility is so important and said that “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” St. Josemaria Escriva took up this incredible statement by St. Augustine and broke it down for us in his book Furrow (n. 259):
- “Prayer is the humility of the man who acknowledges his profound wretchedness and the greatness of God. He addresses and adores God as one who expects everything from Him and nothing from himself.
- Faith is the humility of the mind which renounces its own judgement and surrenders to the verdict and authority of the Church.
- Obedience is the humility of the will which subjects itself to the will of another, for God’s sake.
- Chastity is the humility of the flesh, which subjects itself to the spirit.
- Exterior mortification is the humility of the senses.
- Penance is the humility of all the passions, immolated to the Lord.
- Humility is truth on the road of the ascetic struggle.”
So what does this have to do with Lent?
Lists for Lent
Lent is traditionally that time of the liturgical year when we make a greater effort to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We pay more attention to making sacrifices and doing small penances throughout the forty days. As we mature in our faith these penances and practicing the three “pillars of Lent” should be oriented not towards merely doing for the sake of doing (or sacrificing for the sake of sacrificing), but towards developing good and lasting spiritual habits that make us holier, which we will continue even after the Lenten season has given way to Easter.
Sts. Josemaria and Teresa of Calcutta have given us a great way to develop humility “the mother of all virtues” during Lent. They each wrote a list. St. Josemaria’s list is made of 17 points that indicate a lack of humility. It can be very, well, humbling to read through it and recognize pieces of your own character being mentioned! Mother Teresa’s list is a little gentler, and contains 15 suggestions for cultivating humility within yourself. Both of these lists are below for you to reference.
A powerful (and sacrificial!) lenten observance would be to read through each list and then honestly hone in on the points that strike you as difficult, or lacking within yourself. Focus on one at a time for a few days or a week, praying for the grace to conquer yourself and become more humble. With prayer, perseverance, and the help of the saints, you will reach Easter a changed, and more humble person!
St. Josemaria Escriva’s 17 signs of a lack of humility:
1. Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say.
2. Always wanting to get your own way.
3. Arguing when you are not right or—when you are—insisting stubbornly or with bad manners.
4. Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so.
5. Despising the point of view of others.
6. Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan.
7. Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honor or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own.
8. Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation.
9. Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you.
10. Making excuses when rebuked.
11. Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you.
12. Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you
13. Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you
14. Refusing to carry out menial tasks.
15. Seeking or wanting to be singled out
16. Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige.
17. Being ashamed of not having certain possessions.
Mother Teresa’s 15 steps to cultivate humility:
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity (in other words, refrain from wanting to know things that are none of your business)
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.
The soul’s true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud.St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul