By Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, SJ
We normally dislike braggarts or proud people. Those who believe in their own goodness or worth have a quality that is repulsive to people. Even Our Lord has said that we should not take places of honor in festivities because we may be embarrassed if the owner of house would come with one more appreciated person and ask us to move out of the place we have taken. On one hand, the self-honored have one virtue in their favor and that is their self-confidence. We all need a degree of self-confidence to perform in this world. I have known people who have been stripped of all self-confidence when they were children. It is a disaster. They are useless to themselves and to society. Some parents do not realize the injustice they are doing when they keep criticizing their children. Their children lose self- confidence. We need some of it but not to the point that we become braggarts.
Humility comes from the Latin word “humus” or soil, dirt. We need humility or to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return as we say on Ash Wednesday. Our bodies come from the soil but as Tennyson says, “it is not spoken of the spirit” We are half angel and half animal. We have spirit and body. This is a truth that we often forget that we are both spirit and flesh. Since our bodies come from the soil, we cannot forget that we are dirt, or at least half of us. We have a spirit that can soar above dirt but the other half is soil. In this sense we cannot forget that we are half flesh that will go back to the soil. But even with our spirits, it is not something we obtained on our own but a free gift of God. All that we have and are is given to us by the Almighty for which we have to be constantly grateful. We have nothing of our own. It is all a gift from the Almighty. This we often forget and have to be reminded. For St. Theresa of Avila humility is truth. The truth is that we have nothing of our own and are, all are gifts from God.
Since we have nothing of our own that we can be proud of; we have to keep reminding ourselves of gratitude to God for what we have and make the most of the gifts He has bestowed on us. Constantly we have to thank God for our good fortune and even for our problems. A normal person keeps thanking God for the gifts he has received but at the same time is conscious of his obligation to make the most of the gifts we have received. This is a humble person who constantly thanks God for his gifts but make the most out of these gifts. He remembers he has nothing of his own and that of what he has is made up of half spirit and half flesh that will go back to the soil.
St. Ignatius takes a farther step. He makes three degrees of humility. In the first degree of his gratitude to the Creator, he does not dare to offend Him in any serious matter. In the second degree he refuses to disobey the Creator even in minor unimportant matters. In the third degree he asks to be misunderstood because like his Savior Jesus was misunderstood in his life time. It is the third degree, of humility he desires to be misunderstood like his Savior. In a way it is also a degree, of love because in his love for the Savior he wants to be like the Savior in his suffering of being misunderstood. And there are many opportunities of being misunderstood in everyday life. This is what turns people into the sweetness of Christ. He can fight for his rights and dignity but once in a while he does nothing to defend his right and dignity to be like his Savior who was misunderstood. He was so misunderstood that they crucified him, the most cruel of possible deaths. Because of love of Him the person seeking the third degree of humility suffers and accepts his suffering for love of is Savior. In return for suffering for us we accept suffering in imitation of Him, the Savior.
In this degree of humility we do not seek suffering or misunderstanding but when it comes, for sure it will come, we rejoice because we suffer like our Savior. In this degree love and humility are mixed. The humility is extraordinary. We go beyond being nothing to the negative territory because we want to be like our Savior Jesus, who suffered for us and was misunderstood.