“Our humility and obedience are but the exercise of our love and desire for Jesus, they are but means of giving ourself completely to Him, as He does to us . . .” Dom Eugene Boylan, “This Tremendous Lover”.
The following essay is based on Dom Eugene Boylan’s book primarily Chapter XVII, “Union with Christ through Humility”. I had begun this post a couple years back, but set it aside. Recent events, of no particular interest to anyone but myself, caused me to take it up again. To be brief, I am learning (painfully slowly!) to accept the humiliations that Providence hands me. For He doesn’t “reward our goodness” with the praise of others – quite the opposite – the applause of others tends to draw us away from God, while the humbling we get from those who despise us are often the greatest help to our true growth. It is after all, from the Cross that we learn the most essential lessons.
Grace to the Humble
Abandonment to Divine Providence is but the outward expression of that virtue of humility which is the foundation of the whole spiritual life. We have already referred to humility as that by which the obstacles to the outpourings of God’s goodness are removed, for “God resisteth the proud and giveth grace to the humble.”
If one asks, “How am I to become humble?” the immediate answer is “By the grace of God” and that is indeed the truth. Only the grace of God can give us that insight into our own condition and the realization of His exaltation that make for humility. But even though it be a grace, it is a grace with which we must co-operate. The first thing to do is to ask in prayer for the grace of humility, and to ask sincerely. The second thing is to accept humiliations when they come our way; but never forget that there is an enormous difference between being humble and being humiliated. The next thing is to accept as lovingly as we can, our own limitations, our own defects, our own lowliness; and even to be resigned – if we cannot be glad – when these shortcomings become known to others. Human nature being what it is, this is not easy; in fact, without confidence in God, it is morally impossible.
Confidence and humility always go together. One of the reasons why men are so anxious to exalt themselves – to overestimate their own value and their own powers – to resent anything that would tend to lower themselves in their own esteem or in that of others – is because they see no other hope for their happiness save in themselves. That is why they are so “touchy” so resentful of criticism, so impatient of opposition, so insistent on getting their own way, so eager to be known, so anxious for praise, so determined on ruling their surroundings. They clutch at themselves like drowning men clutch at a straw. And as life goes on, still far from being satisfied; their attitude borders on the feverish and hysterical; whatever they may have got, they are certainly far from having found peace.
The attitude of the man who has true Christian humility is just the opposite. Since his hope is placed in God instead of himself, he has no worries about getting his own way. Insofar as he trusts in God, he can accept whatever outcome, in the knowledge that God can perfectly well turn any outcome into serving His glory. Now, this attitude of working our best, but relying on God to determine the outcome, is not passivity and it does not require constant self-deprecation.
Humility is not so much self-deprecation as self-forgetfulness. It is a return to the simplicity of childhood based upon a realization of the Fatherhood of God. It is to realize that our sanctification is the work of God, and that we are rather an obstacle to His work than otherwise. It is a realization and a glad acceptance of the fact that we have nothing which we have not received. That is, we frankly acknowledge that whatever skills and abilities we have are gifts of God, generously offered to us in order to allow us to partner with Him.
The truly humble never desire to appear before God as workers who have accomplished all their tasks perfectly and who therefore expect their full wages as their due. Such workers, of course, will receive their just reward; if we appeal to God’s justice, he will be just with us. But which of us dare stand in such confidence before the judgement seat of God and put our hope in His just retribution? Such an attitude is the height of folly. The wise man closes his eyes to any good he may have done and goes to God as his Saviour, relying on God’s mercy and upon his own poverty. For that is the claim to the kingdom of Heaven recognized by Our Lord Himself. “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”
The truth is that we do not understand the value of our own weakness. We want to be conscious of our strength, and we want others to be conscious of it also; we want to do great things – for God, as we like to say – and we want others to know that we have done them: we want to acquire a store of merit and an armoury of virtues so that we can feel secure in our spiritual riches; and we want good to be done – but we want to have the doing of it ourselves so that we may be rich in what we think are good works. Thus, we forget what the Holy Spirit writes:
“There is an inactive man that wanteth help, is very weak in ability, and full of poverty: yet the eye of god hath looked upon him for good, and hath lifteth him up from his low estate, and hath exalteth his head . . . trust in God and stay in thy place. For it is easy in the eyes of God on a sudden to make the poor man rich. The blessing of God maketh haste to reward the just, and in a swift hour His blessing beareth fruit.” (Ecclesiasticus 21, 12)
Dom Eugene Boylan reminds us here of a quote from Father Clerissac, “it is our emptiness and thirst that God needs, not our plenitude.” …
It is far better for us to be conscious of our own weakness, to accept others’ perception of our faults and shortcomings, so that God Himself is seen as the author of good works. We serve God greatly in doing whatever He puts before us, the humble tasks as well as the greater ones. We should be indifferent to what others may think of our achievements – or the lack of them. Rather than seeking on our own to store up spiritual riches, merits and virtues for ourselves, we much more effectively amass them by maintaining our focus on serving God, minute by tedious minute in the course. of our daily duties, for it is by accepting their tedium and the constant pricks to our ego provided by our little failings that true spiritual riches are given generously to us by our loving Father who always sees our good intentions in such a way as to overlook our mishaps.
And so, we place our entire confidence in His mercy and infinite love for us. Our zeal for God’s glory drives us with a keen desire to serve Him with good works, and our humility leads us to trust in Him as to the outcome. We know that all belongs to Him, and the value of all our works has already been consecrated to Him through the Immaculate Heart of Mary; we are her children, after all.
Humility is the sticking point in our relationship with the world. It is the bone of contention. Indeed, personal achievement, “self-esteem”, “self-confidence”, those are the core of modern values. This is virulent neopagan pride and it infects Catholics, even traditional Catholics, almost as pervasively as it has infected the vast secular majority today. Until this pride and its progeny, liberty and tolerance, are defeated, the spiritual chastisement must intensify.
Dom Boylan notes that “cultivation of humility should commence in the interior. It will be learned by keeping good company and the best company is that of Jesus and Mary. If we but read the life of Our Lord as that of a friend, we cannot help being influenced by His constant example. Frequent meditation on the Passion will bring us more quickly to humility than anything else; and while humility is dependent upon true self-knowledge, such knowledge is better obtained by studying what God is than what we ourselves are. The continual remembrance of God is one of the best ways of ensuring humility, for humility is really reverence for God and advance in humility means advance in reverence for God.”
“Here again, we find that the Christian life is but a continuation of the Mass. In the Mass we offer Sacrifice to assure God that we are nothing and that He is all, to offer Him our adoration and our reverence. If we are sincere in our protestation, we shall maintain that attitude of humility of heart during the rest of the day.” . . .
It is only by humility that our love for Our Lord will fully take flight. As the Holy Spirit teaches us, God is a jealous God; this divine jealousy is not the vain self-love of original sin, but the jealousy of the Divine Lover, what Dom Boylan refers to as the Tremendous Lover who knows that He, and He alone, can give happiness to His beloved. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and thy whole soul, with all thy mind and all thy strength.”
St. Thomas a Kempis puts these words on Our Lord’s lips:
“What more do I ask of thee than to give thyself up entirely to Me? Whatever thy givest besides thyself is nothing to Me. I seek not thy gift but thyself! Just as thou couldst not be content without Me, though thou possessest everything else, so nothing thou offerest can please Me unless thou offerest Me thyself! Behold, I offered My whole self to the Father for thee, and I have given My whole Body and Blood for thy food, that I might be all thine, and thou might be all and always Mine. But if thou wilt stand upon thy own strength, and wilt not offer thyself freely to My will, thy offering is not perfect, nor will there be an entire union between us.” (Imitation of Christ, 4,8) [Note: This is Dom Boylan’s citation, I cannot locate this quote in my copies of the Imitation.]
Love and Desire
Dom Boylan: Our humility and obedience are but the exercise of our love and desire for Jesus, they are but means of giving ourself completely to Him, as He does to us in the Mass, and that is what, by our Communion and assistance at Mass, we signify our readiness to do. For that is the whole spiritual life – a love-union with Jesus, in which each of the lovers, the Divine and the human, give themselves completely to one another. It is not so much an acquisition of virtue, of performing heroic deeds, of amassing merit, of bearing fruit in the Church; these things are excellent , especially in so far as they come from love. But nothing less than our very self in its entirety will satisfy the Heart of Jesus, and all He asks is that we give Him our whole self in poverty and nothingness. The great way to do that is the way shown by Jesus and Mary – by love through humility and abandonment.
(I obtained my copy of “This Tremendous Lover” from AbeBooks.com, but I was told that Baronius Press now offers a reprint of this book.)
Remember – Our Lady needs us to obey: First Saturdays of Reparation, daily rosary, at least 5 mysteries, wear her brown scapular and live your Total Consecration to her Immaculate Heart, offering daily duties in reparation and for the conversion of poor sinners.
† Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of our hearts, Mother of the Church, do thou offer to the Eternal Father the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for the conversion of poor sinners, especially our Pontiff.
† Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Thy kingdom come! Viva Cristo Rey!
† St. Joseph, protect us, protect our families, protect our priests.
† St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
~ by evensong for love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, King.
Vouchsafe that I may praise thee, O Sacred Virgin! Give me strength against thine enemies!