Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Humility as a Praiseworthy Self-Abasement


Today's Gospel, Mt 23:1-12, deals with humility and our place amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ. Specifically, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples that the knowledge of the scribes and Pharisees is valid and must be obeyed, however, their example is abhorrent. It seems a rather poignant reminder that we should not strut like peacocks for everyone to admire our exterior works and attributes, or gloat over our level of knowledge. Instead, we who have love and knowledge of the Good News of Christ should be at the service of others.

St. Thomas Aquinas offers this about humility in his triumphal work, the Summa Theologica:

[H]umility, in so far as it is a virtue, conveys the notion of a praiseworthy self-abasement to the lowest place. (II-II, q.161, 1, a2)

Praiseworthy self-abasement needs to be considered here more deeply. What does it mean to self-abase in a praiseworthy manner? It is not an external movement, but an interior movement in the soul to which Thomas is referring. Sacrifices and penances can lose their value for our salvation if we are not moved to them by love, but by the desire to be noticed by others for our righteousness. This is not a praiseworthy motive for self-abasing behaviors.

To make this point, Jesus reminds us elsewhere in Scripture not to be like the scribes and Pharisees who are looking for their own glorification in the works that they do, i.e. standing on street corners preaching. He calls these people hypocrites. (Cf. Mt 6) He goes even further to exemplify what is meant by humility in the washing of the disciples' feet on Holy Thursday. (Cf.Jn 13)

And again, to further clarify what a humble master or teacher among his people or students should do, Jesus affirms:

So when he had washed their feet (and) put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.
(Jn 13: 12-17)

Jesus has given us a model, an example to follow; His way is the way of humility. He is the High Priest who is the most perfect example of praiseworthy self-abasement. We should seek to imitate this model, as the Blessed Mother so eloquently did. In so doing, we will begin to grow in the virtue of humility by recognizing along with John the Baptist, that "He must increase; I must decrease." (Jn 3:30)


Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek 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 ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ...
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease ...
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

1 comment:

Mary said...

thank you for the lesson I needed to hear today.