|St. John of the Cross|
This is the fifth chapter in a series of chapters on the subject of humility, from the book Divine Intimacy.
1. Many souls would like to be humble, but few desire humiliation; many ask God to make them humble and fervently pray for this, but very few want to be humiliated. Yet it is impossible to gain humility without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility.
As long as we only desire this virtue of humility, but are not willing to accept the means thereto, not even are we on the true road to acquiring it. Even if in certain situations we succeed in acting humbly, this may well be the result of a superficial and apparent humility rather than of a humility that is real and profound. Humility is truth; therefore, let us tell ourselves that since we possess nothing of ourselves but sin, it is but just that we receive only humiliation and scorn. If we were really convinced of this truth, we would find it very just that all should humiliate us, treat us without consideration, and despise us. In fact, what honor and consideration does one deserve who has offended his Creator, when a single sin - even a venial one - is more deplorable and worthy of more contempt than the most miserable earthly condition, the poorest and lowest estate? The saints were so firmly convinced of this truth that they never found the humiliations which came to them too painful; they considered them, on the contrary, always less than they deserved. "I never have heard anything bad said of me," said St. Teresa of Jesus, "which I did not clearly realize fell short of the truth. If I had not sometimes - often, indeed - offended God in the ways they referred to, I had done so in many others, and I felt they had treated me far too indulgently in saying nothing about these" (Way of Perfection).
Bear your humiliations patiently, for man is tried in this crucible as gold in the fire (cf. Sirach 1,4.5). If we feel the weight of our pride and wish to be rid of it, we must accept humiliations calmly - through them the Lord will crush our pride.
2. Before seeking humiliations on our own initiative, we should prepare to accept those which will come to us against our will. Whereas subtle pride might work its way into the lowly acts we impose upon ourselves - for example, the desire to appear humble - this danger is absolutely excluded from those which come from others in spite of ourselves. However, even in this case they must be willingly accepted in order to bear fruit. It is not the humiliation itself which makes us humble, but the act of the will by which we accept it. St. Bernard teaches that being humble and being humbled are two different thing. We can say that everyone, in one way or another, receives humiliations in this life. not many, however, become humble because very few accept humiliation and submit to it patiently.
What profit do we draw from humiliations, if instead of accepting them, we oppose and resist them with resentment and vexation and become angry with the person who gives them to us?
It is true that these occasions are not agreeable to proud, sensitive nature; nevertheless, although we feel their bitterness, we must force ourselves to accept them graciously, making the words of the Psalmist our own: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me." If, in spite of all the repugnance and resistance of nature, we accept a humiliation by an act of the will, and assure God that we want to be content with it and to savor it thoroughly, we will gradually become humble. The hard, bitter bread of abasement will become, little by little, sweet and pleasant, but we will not find it agreeable until we have been nourished by it for a long time. Moreover, the most important thing is not sweetness, but the willingness to accept everything that is humiliating. "Allow thyself to be taught, allow thyself to be commanded, allow thyself to be enslaved and brought into submission and despised, and thou shalt be perfect!" (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Maxims).