This is the second chapter in a short series of chapters on the virtue of humility, taken from the book Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen.
1. Among all the creatures in which we take pleasure and toward which our nature seems to be attracted the most, self undoubtedly holds the first place. There is no one, no matter how limited in talents and good qualities, who does not love his own excellence, and who does not try, in one way or another, to make it shine forth to himself and to others. It is for this reason that we often spontaneously exaggerate our own worth, and as a result are demanding and pretentious. This makes us haughty and arrogant, as well as difficult in our relations with others. Humility is the virtue which keeps within just limits the love of one's own excellence. Whereas self-esteem often induces us to make ourselves too evident, or to occupy a place which is higher than our due, humility keeps us in our own place. Humility is truth: it tends to establish in truth both our intellect - by making us know ourselves as we really are - and our life, by inclining us to take, in relation to God and to men, our proper place and no other.
Humility makes us realize that, in the sight of God, we are only His little creature, entirely dependent upon Him for our existence and for all our works. Having received life from God, we cannot subsist even one moment independently of Him. He who gave us existence by His creative action maintains life in us by His conserving action. In addition we cannot perform the slightest act without God's cooperation, in the same way that a machine - even a perfect one - cannot make any motion until it is is started by the one who made it. It is very true that, unlike the machine, our actions are neither mechanical nor compulsory, but are conscious and free; yet, we cannot move even a finger without the concurrence of the divine Artist.
It follows then that everything we possess in the order of being - qualities, gifts, capacities - and everything we have accomplished in the order of action, is not ours, but all, in one way or another, are gifts of God, all are acts performed with God's help. "What hast thou that thou hast not received? And if thou hast received it, why does thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor 4,7).
2. In the supernatural order, where everything depends on grace, the words of Jesus, "Without Me you can do nothing" (Jn 15,5), are more strictly verified. Although in Baptism, sanctifying grace raised us to the supernatural order, and the infused virtues made us capable of producing supernatural acts, still St. Paul says: "No man can say the Lord Jesus , but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor 12,3). In order to perform even the tiniest supernatural act we need God's help; we need actual grace which prevents us by its inspirations and accompanies us in the act until it is accomplished.
The great theologian, who has profoundly studied Catholic doctrine, has as absolute a need of actual grace in order to put into practice the most insignificant point of Catholic doctrine or to produce a single act of the love of God as does the peasant who knows nothing beyond his catechism. Even a saint, one who has received so many favors and divine lights and has attained to heroic virtue, cannot perform the smallest virtuous act without the help of actual grace. How total then must be our dependence upon God! We are very far from the truth if, trusting in our own knowledge or long practice in the spiritual life, we believe that our lights or our virtues are sufficient to make us act like good Christians. No, St. Paul warns us: "sufficientia nostra ex Deo est," our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor 3,5). Without God we cannot think, or speak, or desire any god, "for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will" (Phil 2,13).
Of ourselves, then, we have only the one capacity which belongs to our limited nature, injured by original sin: the capacity to fail in our duties and to sin. If we take away from ourselves what is of God, we will find that of ourselves we are nothing, or rather less than nothing; nothingness itself is incapable of offending God, while we have this sad capability.