For “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,” Our Blessed Lord teaches us through the Gospel of this Holy Mass. And there is nothing more humbling that the fact that each one of us shall die: that I shall no longer be in control of what I can or want to do—that the “I” who has for decades sought, with greater or lesser success, to determine in what manner, when and how I would like to engage with others lies silent and powerless in death. For our secular, godless world death is indeed the ultimate humiliation.
Our Lord also teaches us this morning that “he who humbles himself will be exalted”. St Paul puts this somewhat more clearly: “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.” (Rom. 8:13) If I live according to my own will, death will claim its victory over me in the end. If my life is lived in humility, where God is “number one” (and not “I”) then death has no power over me (cf. I Cor. 15:55-57). Eternal exaltation, not annihilation, awaits me when my life on earth is done.
But humility is not at all attractive in a world where the jousting of egos is all that matters. Humility is perceived as weakness, as opting out of the pursuit of power and success. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. “Humildad es andar en verdad,” the great sixteenth century Carmelite St Teresa of Avila teaches: “Humility is to walk in Truth.” Humility is to accept the reality that God is, that I am His creature and that the eternal exaltation He offers me is mine if I persevere faithfully my worship of Him in the particular circumstances of the life and vocation He has given to me.
Countless martyrs and other saints over the centuries bear witness to the strength, the power and the resolution that humility gives: they have persevered in living the Truth that God is, and that He has revealed Himself definitively in this world in the Person of Jesus Christ, who founded one Church for the salvation of all mankind—regardless of the ridicule of the world. And when the powers of this world could bear their rebuke no longer, the saints have willing laid down their earthly lives in the sure hope of that exultation promised by Our Lord. This is humility—powerful, (eternal) life-giving humility. This is losing one’s life in order to save it for all eternity!
St Benedict devotes the seventh chapter of his Rule (which by happy coincidence we begin to read in Chapter today) to humility. He enumerates twelve degrees of humility, twelve steps of a ladder as it were, by which we come to God. It is impossible to consider each of these this morning: I warmly invite you open the Rule and to consider them privately in the coming days. But what we can ponder simply enough is the Gospel’s contrast of “self-exaltation” (or “pride” as St Benedict would put it) and “humility”.
For no matter what my state in life, the battle between pride and humble service of the Truth is my daily fare. The monk must live the truth that he serves God, not his own will. The married man or woman must put their own preferences behind them and faithfully love and serve their spouse and family. Young people in search of God’s Holy Will for their life must be quiet enough to hear His call, and not energetically dress up their own will under the guise of so-called “discernment” (a reality encountered all-too-often in so-called “traditional” circles). Those who exercise authority must exercise it for glory of Almighty God and the salvation of His people (something often reduced to the desultory expression “the common good”) not their own political ends—above all when this authority is held in persona Christi.
Each of us must convert and conform ourselves and our consciences to the moral law laid down by Almighty God, and not acquiesce in self-deception, or seek to bless a prideful corruption of the Truth in the name of (false) compassion or inclusivity. Those whose vocation it is to teach the Truth of Christ must do so clearly, without fearing the opprobrium of those for whom only this world and its pleasures matter. And yes, we must be ready to follow the example of the saints and martyrs in bearing resolute humble witness to the Truth until the end.
Whether I be pope, president, prime minister, prince, priest, politician, parent, pupil or private person, I am called to this heroic daily humble service of the truth. If I persevere thus, Our Lord promises me that I shall be exalted.
For the grace and humility so to persevere, and that others shall come to the humble recognition of this Truth, let us entreat Almighty God at His altar this morning. +