Humility restrains our desires & appetites

Catholic Theology views humility as a sub-part of the Cardinal Virtue of Temperance. It is viewed as a part of temperance because temperance includes all those virtues that restrain or help limit the inordinate movements of our desires or appetites. St Augustine the three most important virtues of the spiritual life are: humility, humility, and humility.

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Grant me the 'Grace of Humility'

By Tim Trainor

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, Bishop
Romans 11:1-2a, 11-12, 25-29
Matthew 11:29ab

To me, the “Taking the Lowest Seat at Feast” Parable in our Gospel Reading that we are looking at this morning, is all about painting a word picture to help us define humility  so we can better practice it.

In contrast to most of Jesus’ Parables, where He puts the burden on the listener to figure out what it means and apply it in his life, our Parable today is a 'wisdom saying.’ So in it, Jesus tells the listener how to behave. For Jesus to speak so plainly, I think means that He did not want any of us to miss out on its full meaning or the wisdom held in it, i.e., that humility really matters!

To drive this point home, Jesus ends our reading today with these strong words: "For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

So, Jesus is telling us that in God's Kingdom, the way up - is down. Anyone who lifts himself up will be brought down, and anyone who is brought down will be lifted up. When we try to make other people think that we are important or better than them, then we will be humbled against our will. But if we humble ourselves, then God will honor our actions. That is to say, 'exalt,' us as we hear in this Parable.

When Jesus recommends genuine humility, His parable is certainly not about simple banquet etiquette! So, what is He calling you and me to? What is the 'humbling' that He is talking about here? Could it be humility related?

The Glossary of the Catechism defines humility as: “The virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer” (2559). Voluntary humility can be described as "poverty of spirit" (2546).

So, what is so great about this humility thing? The above definition tells us two very important things:

1. It is the virtue that counters PRIDE.

2. Plus, it puts us in the right relationship to call out to God (our Father) in prayer in those times or areas when we are hurting or poor.

The reason pride is such a deadly sin is that it gets in the way of our relationships with God — and fellow man. When we are focused on ourselves and our own achievements we see little need to talk to God or others and cannot see that God is working in our lives and in those of our fellow men.

So, remember, the virtue that directly counters pride and thus, the remedy for this sin, is humility. Still not convinced that humility needs to be important to a Christian? Did you know that the Bible has 106 stories emphasizing humility? Faith is featured in 104 stories, and love is featured only 47 times. Are these numbers trying to tell us something? Perhaps we should dig a little deeper into this humility thing.

What are some examples of humility, and how can we humble ourselves, as verse 11 in our Gospel calls for? Does humility mean putting yourself down? Is humility the same as self-degradation? What is real humility?

Catholic Theology views humility as a sub-part of the Cardinal Virtue of Temperance. It is viewed as a part of temperance because temperance includes all those virtues that restrain or help limit the inordinate movements of our desires or appetites.

Here are some quotes that may help us better get our arms around this virtue:

* In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, “True humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; but it is thinking of yourself less.”

* St. Bernard defines it as "A virtue by which a man knows himself as he truly is, and humbles himself. Jesus Christ is the ultimate definition of Humility."

St. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th-century philosopher, and theologian, defines humility as "the virtue that consists in keeping oneself within one's own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one's superior." When St Augustine was asked what are the (3) three most important virtues of the spiritual life he answered: humility, humility, and humility.

Self-forgetfulness is seen in the life of Saint Teresa of Liseaux, whose little way revolved around the saying “not I but You.” She always strove to be “little” and even liked to compare herself to a grain of sand, her hidden symbol of poverty and littleness, so she would never attract attention to herself. She wrote to her sister Agnes that she hoped to “always remain a little grain of sand, very obscure hidden from all eyes, that Jesus alone may be able to see.”

Today’s Parable describes the key virtue we need to begin to practice while we are here on earth so we will be ready for the grand banquet to be held in the kingdom of heaven. Practically speaking, this means as a guest, not seeking the prominent or first place. That means don’t try to get the best seats of honor to impress others. Seeking social status only feeds our pride and inflates our sense of self-importance. 

Saint Agustine said, “It was pride that turned angels into devils, and it is humility that makes men as angels.” Jesus said of himself, that he was gentle and humble of heart. Let us imitate him who did not grasp equality with God as something to be held on to but emptied himself by taking the form of a slave.

Rather than trying to draw attention to ourselves, follow the wisdom of St Francis, who said: we should be humble like 'sister water' who always seeks the lowest place.

You and I are the Wedding Banquet Guests in this Parable. And if we are the guests, then the Banquet symbolizes heaven, and the Banquet Host in this Parable is God Himself.

Some more quotes to increase our insight into this major virtue to help us get to heaven:

  • James 4, 6: "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble".
  • St Francis De Sales: “Humility makes our lives acceptable to God; meekness makes us acceptable to men.” 
  • From my favorite theologian, Saint Augustine, these wise words:

    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. No one reaches the kingdom of Heaven except by humility. Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility. 

    [Note again the reversal going on here in this quote — to rise, first go down which echoes our Parable's advice to 'take the lower seat and move up when asked' because, 'everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted'.]

We Catholics have 12 official Litany's and one of them is The Litany of Humility. In it, we find great insight into just what exactly the virtue of humility is, plus some very good but tough examples of how to practice it.

Four general notes that I found in the Litany of Humility are:                       

1. To live in humility, you need to desire to live always in the confidence of God’s love, protection, and guidance and, therefore do not be concerned when others insult you or praise you.

2. Secure in God’s love, you won’t have to base your identity on whether or not others notice and accept you, and so you won’t have to compete with them and beat them down to make yourself feel bigger.

3. Humility does not have anything to do with humiliation or self-defilement. We have an obligation to serve Christ effectively and joyfully out of pure love.

4. Therefore, it is important that we never relinquish the noble responsibility of developing our God-given talents to the fullest. Our self-development is a spiritual necessity, and it won’t become an act of selfishness if we seek it with proper humility.

As you read the Litany of Humility, see if any of the lines in the Litany stick out or grab you. If so, focus on them and commit to working on them in the coming weeks to help you get your arms around and practice this key virtue.

Lastly, in your daily prayer life, ask for the grace to grow in humility so as to live the genuine Christian life that God has called you, and only you, to live.

The Litany of Humility Prayer

Prayer                                                                   RESPONSE

O  JESUS merciful and humble of heart,           Hear me.
FROM the DESIRE of being esteemed,          Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,                                 "
From the desire of being extolled,                             "
From the desire of being honored,                             "
From the desire of being praised,                               "
From the desire of being preferred to others,             "
From the desire of being consulted,                           "
From the desire of being approved,                           "

FROM the FEAR of being humiliated,            Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,                                "
From the fear of suffering rebukes,                            "
From the fear of being falsely accused,                     "
From the fear of being forgotten,                               "
From fear of being ridiculed,                                     "
From the fear of being wronged,                                 "
From the fear of being suspected,                    Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be LOVED more than I,          Grant me the GRACE to DESIRE this, Jesus.
That others may be esteemed more than I,                             "      
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease [like John the Baptist said of himself],                                                       "
That others may be chosen and I set aside,                            "
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,                     "
That others may be preferred to me in everything,                "
LASTLY, that others may become holier than I, PROVIDED that I become AS HOLY AS I was DESIGNED to be, Jesus, grant me the GRACE to desire this, PLUS ALL THE ABOVE!                                                                                                                                                                                                  AMEN

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