I’ve been reading Humility of the Heart, by Father Cajetan Mary de Bergamo. He was an Italian priest who died in 1753. It has been a fantastic devotional read thus far. His insights into the nature and necessity of humility are challenging and profound. The opening paragraph of the book is worth meditating on:
In Paradise there are many Saints who never gave alms on earth: their poverty justified them. There are many Saints who never mortified their bodies by fasting, or wearing hair shirts: their bodily infirmities excused them. There are many Saints too who were not virgins: their vocation was otherwise. But in Paradise there is no Saint who was not humble.
God banished angels from Heaven for their pride; therefore how can we pretend to enter therein, if we do not keep ourselves in a state of humility?
Humility is the opposite of pride. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins of church tradition. It is assigning to ourselves goodness or favor that is not due to us. It is living a lie.
Humility is “living in the truth” as the title to another good book on the subject tells us. It is not thinking less than we ought to of ourselves, but is an honest look at who we are and what we deserve. If we believe what we read in the pages of scripture, the answer is, “not much that is pleasant.”
Pride is sinful. As Father Cajetan reminds us, Satan fell because of pride. Pride is his defining characteristic and one of his favorite stratagems for leading us astray. Consider Genesis chapter 3 and the primeval temptation of Adam and Eve.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”
(Genesis 3:1 ESV)
“Did God actually say.” It doesn’t sound like it on the surface, but it is an appeal to pride. “Did he really say that? Can you believe that? Who does he think he is putting you here and then saying, ‘no’?” He called into question God’s authority and insinuated that we should be our own authority.
“There can be no temptation without a touch of pride,” Father Cajetan tells us a bit farther into the book. I think he is onto something. For us to be tempted to something, we have to imagine some way in which we are entitled to whatever it is. We have to falsely elevate ourselves in order to rationalize that we deserve that forbidden thing. If we live in humility, we avoid doing that because we realize we don’t deserve even what we are allowed.
Humility is tricky, though. It is the one virtue that we can lose merely by consciousness of our possessing it. We control one interaction through humility and it seems instantly the thought comes, “Hey, I was really humble by doing that.” And we just lost it by patting ourselves on the back.
I am afraid there is no easy road to humility. Jesus is pretty clear it involves a cross. He is also clear it is the only way heaven.