Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Importance of Humility in Relation to God

[384] Saint Angela of Foligno writes:
The more the soul is afflicted, stripped, and deeply humiliated, the more it acquires, with purity, an aptitude for the heights. The elevation of which it becomes capable is measured by the depth of the abyss in which it has its roots and foundations (Cf. Sainte Angèle de Foligno; French trans. by Hello, ch. xix).
[385] [...] Ruysbroeck remarks also that humility does not necessarily have its source in sin:
Our sins...have become for us sources of humility and of love. But it is important to be mindful of a source of humility much higher than this. The Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, has a humility more sublime than the Magdalen's. The latter was pardoned; the former was without spot. But that absolute immunity, more sublime than any pardon, causes a higher thanksgiving to mount from earth to heaven than does the conversion of Mary Magdalen (Cf. Ruysbroeck, French trans. by Hello, Bk. III, "L'Humilité").
Saint Therese of the Child Jesus counts on this attractiveness of humility and of poverty to make the divine mercy descend to her soul. The love of poverty becomes the fundamental quality of her way of spiritual childhood. In a letter to her sister Marie [she] writes:
O my dearest Sister, please understand your little sister, understand that to love Jesus, to be His victim of love, the weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more apt one is for the operations of that consuming and transforming Love. (Letter to Marie, Sept. 17, 1896; Collected Letters, p. 289) [...]
[387] Everywhere that [humility] is found, there God is. And everywhere that God is here below, He clothes Himself, as it were, with a garment that conceals His Presence from the proud and reveals it to the simple and the little ones. When Jesus came to this world, it was as an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes. That was the sign given to the shepherds [....] The sign of humility always marks the Divine here below. [...]

[388] "Height and depth bring forth one another," declares Saint Angela of Foligno.


Source: Fr. Marie-Eugène, I Want to See God, trans. by M. Verda Clare (Notre Dame, IN: Christian Classics, 1953), 384–388.


Saint Angela of Foligno reveals that humility is fundamentally about relation. Height and depth are relative to where one stands. If one is at the bottom of a canyon, the canyon walls seem high, but from the top of the canyon, its depths are far below. Humility links the Infinite height of God with our finite miserableness. This is why the foundation of the spiritual life is humility: the depths of humility draw down the heights of Divine Mercy and to the precise proportion of one to the other. Further, when God wishes to raise us to the mystical heights, He no longer allows us to develop our humility based on our own efforts but fills us with transcendent light that so thoroughly reveals our littleness beyond any effort of our own, we cannot but simultaneously be filled with the mercy that this wretchedness calls out to.

Grace, like humility, establishes a relation and exists only in relation of the Creator to the creature. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis explains this unusual relationship when he comments on the verse from St. Matthew, "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven" (5:44-45):
[238] "That you may become": the subjunctive mood here ought to instill fear and trembling. We will not become children of God until we put on his mind. It would be a plain evasion to qualify the verb here by translating 'we will not fully be' or something of the sort. One either is a child of someone or is not, just as a woman cannot be "partially pregnant". But the text contains rich seeds of hope. The Lord tells us to love our enemies "that we may become the children of our Father in heaven". A strange expression, since it implies that God can be our Father without our being his children. And so it is. This is a one-way parent-child relationship without analogy, since it refers to the absolute source of our existence on both the natural and the supernatural planes. 
Spiritually we cannot be God's children without the interior revolution the Lord is here inviting us to; but, in seeking such an identity, we are not venturing out on a reckless illusion. God already is our Father, so that we will in some sense lack in being if we do not undertake to become his children by putting on his mind. Not only is this venture not something optional, something added as a decoration to the rest [239] of our already existing reality. It is, in fact, the only adventure worth giving one's entire substance to, because what is involved is nothing less than what we shall be and do, in our heart and in our soul and mind, for all eternity. (Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, vol. 1 [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1996], 238–239)
Hence while all being children of the Father at least as Creator, through grace we become children of the Father through adoption. Grace establishes a reciprocal relationship of love that previously could not exist. Likewise, humility reveals to us the truth of our situation relative to God: without God we are incapable of even existing, and all that we have is misery and nothingness, according to St. Teresa of Avila:
I was wondering once why Our Lord so dearly loved this virtue of humility; and all of a sudden—without, I believe, my having previously thought of it—the following reason came into my mind: that it is because God is Sovereign Truth and to be humble is to walk in truth, for it is absolutely true to say that we have no good thing in ourselves, but only misery and nothingness; and anyone who fails to understand this is walking in falsehood. He who best understands this is most pleasing to Sovereign Truth because he is walking in truth. (Interior Castle, VI Mansions, 10: Peers, II, 323) 

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.