Humility is Truth

Rev. Mr. Jonathan Romanoski, FSSP

But when he the Spirit of truth is come, he will teach you all truth.

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Today we celebrate the 4th Sunday after Easter, a time in which we are celebrating our rebirth, reaping for 50 days what we had sown throughout Lent, striving now not to resume our vices and worldly attachments, but rather to make use of the things of this world with the detachment we have gained, able now to enjoy them as a reflection of God, rather than cling to them as a distraction from God.

For “love rejoices in truth.” And the truth is, as St. Ignatius has us meditate on, as the first principle of the spiritual life, is that all things are mere means, and have only one purpose in life- to lead us toward God and to be employed in His service. Today Our Lord continues to prepare us in this spirit, preparing us for his Holy Spirit, who is, the gospel tells us, the Spirit of Truth. Let us keep this in mind, as we hear much today of devotion to the Holy Spirit, but very little of devotion to the Truth. Such is the measure by which we are to judge such manifestations – for one can speak in the tongues of angels yet sound as nothing more than a clanging gong. One can prophecy and work miracles, yet know not the Lord. Better a word of doctrine in understanding, than 5000 in an unknown tongue, the Scriptures tell us.

But I do not suppose there are many of you here prey to such an error, and so I wish to focus today on what true devotion to the Holy Ghost consists in- devotion to the Truth, both in study, which is necessary so as to be virtuous, yet which is much neglected in our day, and the root of our present evils, St. Pius X tells us, and most of all in a life manifesting the truth of God, “in whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration.” When St. Augustine was asked what are the ways of God, he responded, “I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility and the third is humility.”

So what is humility? Perhaps the easiest definition is the one given us by St. Teresa who said, “Humility is truth.” The truth above all that God is He who is and we are that which is not. The truth that everything comes from God, and everything depends upon God at every moment. “In Him we live and move and have our being;” that “it is God at work within us both to will and to accomplish;” that “even our first thoughts are not our own;” “that everything is grace.”

Secondly, that in light of this infinite gift, we have offended God innumerable times, and have deserved the everlasting pains of hell, which as I mentioned last week, quoting St. Thomas, are still less than what justice calls for. And despite all of this, God continues to have mercy on us, sustain us in being and offer again His divine friendship by grace, without which “we can do nothing.”

To be humble is thus to be always cognizant of this gratuity, of the underserved nature of every gift our nothingness and sinfulness has received. But note there are two sides to this- the utter gratuity of God toward us, as well as the actual gift received from God. Let us now consider this second point- the gift received. To be humble is also to acknowledge and take great care of the gifts received from God, for this is true as well. Remember the man who buried his talent so as to hide it and not lose it. Was he humble? Was the Lord pleased? Not at all, as he did not multiply it in the Lord’s service. The light of the Lord is not to be put under a bushel, but upon a candlestick to shine forth in good works that others may glorify the Father in heaven. Nor would it be humble to refer to the gift of our divine and catholic faith as your own humble opinion. This would be rather the heights of arrogance, motivated by cowardliness. Woe to those who will stand before God on the last day having called Him an opinion.

So we see, that, as with any virtue, two things must be kept in balance. And, accordance with truth, is how we are to distinguish the virtue of humility, from a mere timid or shy disposition. St. Thomas Aquinas, that most astute observer of human nature, tells us that by nature we are determined or inclined toward one thing. This refers to our temperament or emotional disposition, which you can see very clearly in a child of say three years of age. They might be very eager and energetic or more reserved, shy, phlegmatic, etc. This is the nature that Providence has given them, which they will have to in turn bring into balance and govern according to reason, throughout their life. And the sign that one has the balance of humility is that they know when to keep quiet, and when to speak up, when to undertake great works, and when to refrain from seeking things too high for them. The rule is truth, and what is called for in the various circumstances we face and not a mere emotional disposition. And so let us never mistake pusillanimity, littleness of soul, for the little way of child like humility, which is filled with absolute confidence in God’s grace, and is indeed bold in His service. For the Scriptures tell us, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love,” His very own Spirit, which was sent “to convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment” and to preach God’s truth “upon the housetops.”

But first we must make sure we know God’s truth, if we wish to proceed to let it shine forth in word and deed. And how are we to humbly proceed in learning it? Remember that original sin inclines us in the opposite direction, being as it was a sin of conscience deciding to call good evil and evil good, claiming an absolute autonomy to the judgment of one’s conscience, rather than subordinating it to God revealing, and in fact, a very feigned conscience rejecting God only to subordinate itself to one’s lower desires. As the Philosopher also said, “every man judges in accordance with his disposition.” The melancholic thinks others too superficial, the choleric thinks others too weak, the sanguine thinks others too unfriendly, the rigorous judges all to the left of him as lax, the gluttonous judges the one who fasts as extreme, etc., and in all of this we make ourselves the norm, and perfect model of balance and virtue. But note well, to make oneself the absolute judge of truth, is to commit the unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, as such a one will never be inclined to repent, as there is no law above him, to convince him of sin.

So how can we make sure to align our judgment to the truth? We must begin to study the truth about the faith and about the virtues. Now to humbly study truth is not to proceed with naïveté, listening to anyone or reading any book, but rather to listen to what God reveals through the Church. Note how God sets things up too, wherein we do not simply assent to what He reveals, but as it is proposed to us through the Church. We have humans to submit to in this as well, and how fitting, so as to humble our pride. And this is where many stumble, who would prefer sola Scriptura– interpreted infallibly of course by themselves. Or even a danger in our circles of a sola Traditio, as if it were comprehensible apart from the Magisterium. Such a notion would be contrary to the very meaning of tradition- as that which is handed on. Which is to say there needs to be someone handing it on, having first received it. Tradition is not simply ancient writings- as there are teachings in some of the Fathers which are ancient, but which were not accepted by the Church, nor handed down in Catholic Tradition. We must remember this especially in our time of crisis, where there is not found such a clear resound of tradition in our shepherds, in which we are tempted to resolve things by our own judgment, which can only be resolved by the Church. In patience we will possess our soul. Scripture and Tradition are indeed the rule of faith, but only the remote rule, and there is no way to preserve them incorrupt or understand them infallibly unless the Church, the proximate rule of faith, teaches it to us, telling us what must be believed and how it is to be understood. Hence the importance of reading the great encyclicals, like Pascendi, Rerum novarum, Casti Conubii, etc., to find tradition explained and applied to our day.

Humility inclines us not only to accept infallible teachings, but the more probable teaching as well. As the Scriptures command us “Lean not on thy own prudence.” St. Thomas points this out for us, when he writes, “a man of little science is more certain about what he hears on the authority of an expert in science, than about what is apparent to him according to his own reason: and much more is a man certain about what he hears from God, Who cannot be deceived, than about what he sees with his own reason, which can be mistaken.” This is of course perfectly reasonable, that we should feel more certain about the judgment of those wiser than us than our own. Yet how often do we act irrationally. I recall a story from a fellow seminarian about a talk he gave on the use of the chapel veil to young ladies, who were glad to hear it being as it is based on the Word of God Himself, and the constant tradition of the Church, and something which highlights the dignity of a woman and the sense of mystery around her, as only that which is holy is veiled, like the tabernacle, or the chalice. Yet one lady there caused quite a scene, rejecting such a proposal. Why? Because she thought it didn’t accord with Catholic tradition, or Sacred Scripture, or because the saints had disapproved of it? Not at all. She simply didn’t like it, and was willing to subject the wisdom of God, and the saints, to her desire, rather than vice versa. That is just one example of a thousand in our life. This is our pride. We decide first what we want and then we arrange our arguments accordingly, rather than starting with what is true, and with what the saints teach, which is the way of sanctity, recognizing the saints as our norm, as the very name canonized indicates to us- those who have been made a canon / a rule for us. Yet how often do we look at them and think, well that’s a little too unbalanced, that’s a bit extreme, not seeking how to gradually be conformed to their virtue, (and not their miracles, which are more admirable than imitable) but holding as a norm our own lukewarmness and measly knowledge of things divine, as the perfect balance to be imitated by all.

Let us rather conform ourselves to truth, in word and deed, imitating He who is Truth, following the example of the Spirit of Truth operative in the lives of the Church’s saints. This is the very mystery of Pentecost for which we are preparing- conformity to Truth. May we be found ready for His coming, as St. Therese was, who, when asked at her death if she had attained humility, responded, “it appears to me that humility is truth. I know not whether I am humble, but I know that I see the truth in all things.”     

Virgin Most Humble: Pray for us.

AMDG+

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