To see personal defects aright a man must feel himself "humbled under the mighty hand of God." 19 I admonish you, therefore, O handmaid of Christ, the moment you realise your failings to humble yourself in abject humility and acknowledge to yourself your utter worthlessness. "Humility," says St. Bernard, "is a virtue which prompts a man possessing an exact knowledge of himself to estimate himself and his powers as dross." 20 Our holy Father St. Francis possessed this virtue. He considered himself the meanest of men. From his entrance into religion even unto the end he loved and cherished humility. Humility compelled St. Francis to leave the world.
Humility drove him in beggar's garb through the streets of Assisi. Because he was humble he served the lepers. For the same reason, when preaching he made public his sins. His humility caused him to ask others to upbraid him for his faults. 21
You ought to learn this virtue, dear mother, from the example of the Son of God. "Learn from me," He says, "because I am meek and humble of heart." 22 To excel in virtue and yet not to practise humility is simply to carry dust before the wind," 23 says St. Gregory. As "pride is the beginning of all sin," 24 so humility is the foundation of all virtue. Learn to be really humble and not, as the hypocrite, humble merely in appearance. Speaking of hypocrites Ecclesiasticus says : "There is one that humbleth himself wickedly and his interior is full of deceit." 25 "The truly humble man," says St. Bernard, "does not desire to be advertised as a humble man, but wishes to be reputed and considered worthless." 26 So, Reverend Mother, if you wish to be perfectly humble you must advance by three stages.
The first stage is thought upon God, as the Author of all good. We must say to ourselves, "O Lord, Thou hast wrought all our works in us." 27 Because this is really so you must attribute every good work to Him and not to yourself. Bear in mind that "you in your own might and in the strength of your own hand" 28 have not attained to all the good things you possess. "It is the Lord who made us and not we ourselves." 29 Such thoughts completely upset the pride of those who say : "Our mighty hand and not the Lord hath done all these things." 30 It was pride such as this which caused Lucifer to be expelled from the glory of heaven. Lucifer would not realise that he was made from nothing, but taking delight in his comeliness and beauty, and remarking how "every precious stone was his covering," 31 exalted himself in his pride. And because "pride goeth before a fall," 32 in the twinkling of an eye he was hurled headlong from his pride of place down to the lowest depths of abject misery. Thus the most exalted of angels became the most depraved of demons.
Oh, how many children of Lucifer there are today, men and women, apes of Lucifer! Sons and daughters of pride whom God in His patience endures! "Pride," says St. Bernard, "is less hateful in the rich than in the poor." 33 The handmaid of Christ, therefore, must always practise humility, since she is to fill the place vacated by a rejected angel. It matters little whether the creature be an angel or a man, humility alone renders the one and the other pleasing to God. If you are not humble, do not imagine for a moment that your virginity is pleasing to God. Mary would not have been made the Mother of God if she had been a proud woman. "I make bold to say," says St. Bernard, "that without humility not even Mary's virginity would have pleased God." 34 Humility is a great virtue. Without it not only is there no virtue, but that which might have been virtue is vitiated and turns to pride.
The second stage is the remembrance of Christ. You must remember that Christ was humiliated even to a most ignominious death. 35 So humiliated was He that He was reputed a leper. Hence Isaias said: "We have thought Him as it were, a leper, and as one struck by God." 36 Christ was humiliated to such an extent that in His day nothing was considered more vile than He. "In humiliation," continues the prophet, "His judgment was taken away." 37 The burden of the prophet's thought is: So great was His humility, and so lowly did He make Himself that no one could form a correct judgment of Him, no one could believe that He was God. If then "Our Lord and Master" Himself said: "The servant is not greater than his Lord, the disciple is not above his master," 38 so you, if you are the handmaid of Christ and His disciple, must be lowly, prepared to be despised and humbled. What is more contemptible in God's eyes than the religious who with a humble garment covers a proud heart! Of what use is that Christian who sees His Lord humbled and despised, yet himself "exalts his heart and walks in great matters and in wonderful things above himself." 39 The Highest God became as the least of all, and the immense God became a little creature, yet a filthy worm, a mere hand maid of Christ, "exalts and magnifies her self." 40 What could be more detestable! What could be more deserving of punishment! Of such the Blessed St. Augustine exclaims in this way: "O ye bags of carrion, why do you swell yourselves out so? O ye putrid festers, why are you puffed up ? How dare the members of a body be proud when the Head is humble?" 41 A forceful way of emphasizing the unseemliness of such behaviour.
The third stage by which you must advance if you would become really humble is by close acquaintanceship with your own self. You become acquainted with yourself when you realise "whence you have come and whither you are going." 42 Reflect then, whence you come and take it to heart that you are the slime of the earth. You have wallowed in sin, and are an exile from the happy kingdom of Heaven. Thoughts such as these will quell the spirit of pride and drive it away somewhat. Thoughts like these will persuade you to cry out with the three youths mentioned in the book of Daniel : "We are brought low in all the earth, this day for our sins." 43
Take now the other point. Whither are you going? You are slowly making towards corruption and elemental ashes. "Dust thou art and into dust shalt thou return." 44 "Why be proud, you who are but dust and ashes?" 45 Today here, tomorrow gone! 46 In good health today, a mass of ailments tomorrow! Wise today, possibly an idiot tomorrow! Rich, and rich in virtue as you read these lines, tomorrow it may easily be said that you find yourself a miserable wretched beggar! Show me the Christian who will dare to extol himself when he realises that he is hemmed in on all sides by so many miseries and possible misfortunes!
Learn, consecrated virgins, to have a humble mind and to walk with a humble mien. Be humble in your tastes and ways and dress. It is humility, remember, that softens God's anger and renders us fit subjects for His holy grace. The greater thou art," remarks Ecclesiasticus, "the more humble thyself in all things, and thou shalt find grace before God." 47 This is how Mary found favour with God. Her own words are: "He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid." 48 There is no reason for surprise. Humility prepares the way for God's grace and frees the mind from all vanity. It is for this reason that St. Augustine says: "The less the pride, the more the love." 49 Just as the waters crowd into the valleys, so the graces of the Holy Spirit fill the humble. And to continue the comparison, the greater the incline, the quicker the water flows, so the more the heart bends under humility, the nearer we are to God. Thus it is easy for the man humble of heart to approach near to God and to beg His Grace. "The prayer of him that humbleth himself," Ecclesiasticus tells us, "shall pierce the clouds : and till it come nigh [to the Most High] he will not be comforted." 50 For "the Lord will do the will of them that fear Him, and He will hear their prayers." 51 Dear children of God and handmaids of Christ, be always humble. "Never allow pride to dominate your hearts." 52 You have in Jesus Christ, Our Lord, a humble Master. Your mistress, Our Blessed Lady, and Queen of us all, was humble. Be humble because St. Francis, your Father, was humble. Be humble because your Mother, St. Clare, was a model of humility. Be humble almost to excess, and let patience be the test of your humility, for humility is perfected by patience. Indeed there is no humility without patience. Listen to what St. Augustine says : "It is easy to place a veil over the head and to cover the eyes, to wear poor and wretched clothes, and to walk with the head cast down, but patience it is that proves a man to be really humble." 53 "In thy humiliation," says Ecclesiasticus, "keep patience." 54
Alas, and I speak with sorrow, there are many of us who would lead proud lives in the cloister, yet we were lowly enough in the world. St. Bernard realised this, and voiced his complaint: "It grieves me very much to see many who trod beneath their feet the pomps of the world, come into the school of humility the better to learn the ways of pride. Under the aegis of a mild and humble master they wax arrogant. They become more impatient in the cloister than they were in the world. What is still worse, very many will not suffer themselves to be held of little worth in the house of God, although in their own circle they could not have been anything but lowly, nay even contemptible." 55
I recommend you, therefore, dear mother, to be solicitous for your daughters. Teach your daughters who have consecrated themselves to God, to guard their virginity by humility, and to keep themselves humble by the practice of their virginity. Virginity associated with humility is like a precious stone in a gold setting," says St. Bernard. "What is there so beautiful as the union of virginity with humility! How indescribably pleasing to God is the soul in which humility enhances virginity and virginity embellishes humility." 56
Lastly, dear mother, please take the following advice from me, your brother. It will please you. Avoid a proud sister as you would avoid a viper. Keep clear of the arrogant nun as though she were a devil. Look upon the companionship of the proud as something that is a virulent poison. Why? I will tell you why. A rather clever writer has left us the following pen picture of a proud man. "The proud man is unbearable. He is too loud in dress, pompous in his bearing, stiff-necked, unnaturally harsh of countenance, stern eyed, ever on the look out for the first places, wishful to outstrip his betters, boastful in everything, and devoid of all idea of respect and proper reverence." 57
"He that hath fellowship with the proud," says Ecclesiasticus, "shall put on pride." 58 O dear child of God, spouse of Christ, and virgin consecrated to the Lord, if you would avoid the risk of falling into the ways of the proud, shun the companionship of the proud.
19 I Pet. v, 6.
20 S. Bern., Degrees of Humility, i, a
21 S. Bonav , Life of St. Francis, Ch. ii.
22 Matt, xi, 29.
23 S. Greg., I Homil. on the Gospel, vii, 4.
24 Eccl. x, 15.
25 Eccl. xix, 23.
26 S. Bernard, Sermons on the Canticle, xvi, 10.
27 Is. xxvi, 12.
28 Cf. Deut. viii, 17.
29 Cf. Ps. xcix, 3. 80 Deut. xxxii, 27.
31 Cf. Ezech. xxviii, 13.
32 Cf. Prov. xxix, 23.
33 S. Bernard, Sermon liv, 8.
34 S. Bernard, Horn. I in S. Luke, i, 26.
35 Cf. Phil, ii, 8.
36 Is. liii, 4.
37 Is. liii, 8.
38 John xiii, 16; Matt, x, 24.
39 Cf. Ps. cxxx, 1.
40 Cf. Ps. ix, 18.
41 S. Aug., Serm. 304.
42 S. Bern., Meditations i, I,
43 Dan. iii, 37-
44 Gen. iii, 19.
45 Cf. Ecclesiasticus x, 9.
46 Cf. ibid., x, 12.
47 Ecclesiasticus iii, 20.
48 Luke i, 48.
49 S. Aug., De Civit. Dei, VIII. 12.
50 Ecclesiasticus xxxv, 21.
51 Ps. cxliv, 19.
52 Cf. Tob. iv, 14.
53 S. Aug., Epist., 17.
54 Ecclesiasticus ii, 4.
55 S. Bern. Homil. iv, 10.
56 Homil. Missus est, i, 5.
57 Prosper, Contemp. Life, viii, I.
58 Ecclesiasticus xiii, I.