Christians familiar with St. Francis of Assisi’s Fioretti, or “Little Flowers” will know of the mesmerizing and humbling story of Francis’ conversation with Brother Leo, his secretary, as they walked from Perugia to Our Lady of the Angels Church outside of Assisi―also known as the Portiuncula.
Francis explains in his own words what would be “perfect joy” to him. He dismisses many things that would make any of the rest of us poor slobs jump with joy but not “Il Poverino.”
Even if all of his friars were to give “a great example of holiness and edification” to all nations, this would be nice but not perfectly joyous to Francis.
Even if all of the friars were to be given the power to perform miracles at will and even exorcise the most powerful demons, this would not produce perfect joy in him.
Francis wouldn’t be overjoyed even if all of his friars were given the gift of prophecy and the discernment of souls. Nor even if they could all converse with angels or become masters of all the sciences or were able to convert all non-believers to Christ.
Instead, Francis would be happy only if, having gotten to St. Mary of the Angels, drenched, cold, filthy, hungry and exhausted, the friars there would mistake the pair for thieves and outlaws, cursing and beating them and throwing them out on their rears. Francis would experience perfect joy only if his humility would allow him to graciously accept such ill-treatment at the hands of his brothers quietly, serenely, without complaint and for the love of God.
For, as Francis explained to Brother Leo, “Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming oneself, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt — for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God.”
It’s often been asked, sometimes legitimately, why God doesn’t simply snap His fingers and make us all holy. It would certainly save a great deal of time and resources and the general wear and tear on my patience.
However, contrary to popular belief in some strange climes, God doesn’t do parlor tricks.
The key to finding God on this plane of existence is humility. There are no other options. Nothing destroys spiritual growth like an obnoxious case of narcissism. It’s only by emptying ourselves of our self-love can we hope to be filled by the Holy Spirit (James 4:10). This is the way to cast off the old self and to put on the new one (Ephesians 4:22-24). It’s the central theme of Christ’s ministry when He walked among us:
So Jesus called them all together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the heathen have power over them, and the leaders have complete authority. This, however, is not the way it shall be among you. If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, you must be the slave of the others — like the Son of Man, Who did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life to redeem many people.‘ (Matthew 20:25-28)
Humility is the virtue of casting aside our pride, hubris, conceit, narcissism and arrogance. Just as pride is said by some to the worst, foremost and root of the Seven Deadly Sins, humility is its cure. Jesus is the best example for Christians who seek to humbly followed God's plan for His life (Matthew 11:29). He is meek and His burden light.
And to help us on our own Path of Righteousness, St. Josemaría Escrivá, the founder of Opus Dei, described 17 ways people run from humility:
- Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say.
- Always wanting to get your own way.
- Arguing when you are not right or ― when you are ― insisting stubbornly or with bad manners.
- Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so.
- Despising the point of view of others.
- Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan.
- Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honor or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own.
- Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation.
- Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you.
- Making excuses when rebuked.
- Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you.
- Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you.
- Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you.
- Refusing to carry out menial tasks.
- Seeking or wanting to be singled out.
- Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige.
- Being ashamed of not having certain possessions.
However, with all due respect to one of the great saints of the 20th century, St. Josemaría Escrivá missed a few other telltale signs one is actively avoiding a true spirit of humility. He probably did so in defense of his humility. Here are a few others to consider:
- C.S. Lewis reminds us in his Mere Christianity that if we think ourselves not conceited, we are indeed conceited. Lewis explained that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.
- Being unwilling to admit error.
- Not giving serious attention to your need to repent of sins, both past and present.
- Pointing out the splinter in the eyes of others while ignoring the log in your eye.
- Forgetting, sometimes intentionally, the basic worth of all human beings.
- Forgetting, sometimes intentionally, the fact that God loves all human beings no more or less than you.
- Imagining that one possesses great academic, intellectual, spiritual and/or moralistic accomplishments upon where none have been granted or bestowed.
- Considering oneself too learned to learn or to wise to gain wisdom.
- Presuming upon one's great wisdom and erudition.
- Insisting upon having the last word.
- Being more concerned about your own feelings than those of others.
- Being more concerned about your own feelings rather than the facts.
- Devastating someone emotionally and rationalizing it by saying, “I’m just being honest,” or “She deserved it.”
- When you honestly believe the rules don’t apply to you including the rules that you insist others follow.
- Insisting upon your opinion or preference.
- Countering an opponent’s argument by saying, “I use to think that but…”
- Insisting that others recognize and laud your contributions, even if none exist.
- Diminishing the accomplishments of others who are your intellectual, academic, spiritual or moral superiors.
- Believing that the ends justify the means.
- Refusing to forgive others.
- Not being able to admit defeat or wrong even when presented with irrefutable proof.
- Lying in order to make a point.
- Pretending to speak for experts or pretending experts agree with you.
- Presuming every bad event in one’s life is the fault of another or, worse, asking why God punishes you.
- Presuming one's great fortune is the result of one’s “goodness” and status as God’s “favorite.”
- Presuming one's opinions and tastes are objectively correct while those of others are essentially worthless.
Humility is the only path to God. It is the cure to pride and the surest way to keep the devil at bay. Remember the succinct advice the Bible can offer when it comes to what God expects of us:
The Lord has told us what is good. What He requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. (Micah 6:8)