Way back in the day, when I was a seminarian, spiritual directors in their conferences would insist on the virtue of humility, citing the things the saints did to help along their humility. But, I don’t know, I think the spiritual directors got it all wrong, with the effect — I’m blaming them ever so humbly! — that we seminarians didn’t become very humble at all. Some of us just stayed as arrogant as anyone might be; some started exaggerating on the “I’m going to do something to humiliate myself” kick. But, of course, humility is simply about truth, accepting the truth of the situation we are in. Compare the following three statements by which the seminarians might be categorized:
- Look at me! Look at me! I’m doing something to humiliate myself! I’m soooo holy and I’m so self-fulfilled! [And this fellow then proceeds to act like a mentally handicapped person, thus demonstrating how terribly arrogant he really is.]
- Don’t be such an idiot. You’re going to get yourself thrown out of the seminary. [This is said while pushing the first fellow to the ground just when the bus comes for the university so that the other fellow will be late for class, an infraction to be noted by the formation directors. Bullies, mind you, are as arrogant as the falsely-humble.]
- In silence, a third fellow lifts up a prayer to the Lord Jesus: “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” [And this fellow is happy to accept the truth of who he is before Jesus, rejoicing that Jesus is forgiving, good and kind, making us His friends in truth.]
Jenny the Jeep is showing her deficiencies to the whole world here. Previous owners thought they were electricians and mechanics. Not. The wires, which should be about none, are a rats nest of connected the wrong way and disconnected and shorting out wires. That’s not good for the junction box which only lasts about 30 minutes. One of the mechanics in town, a Jeep aficionado, is going to try to look at her next week. Jenny doesn’t care about the humiliation, showing what she needs to who can help her. That’s humility, which is modest yet eager to be helped, “doing” something that might make her look humble but not so as to draw attention to how good she is in her humility, but rather just to be helped by the one willing and able to provide that help.
I suppose I’ve been all three of the examples above at whatever time. But I have hope that Jesus will be happy for me to say: Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.
P.S. Saint Philip Neri is most famous for “doing” stuff that would humiliate himself, but this was done as a clever ironic entrapment of those full of themselves, who were about to be taught a lesson fit to bring them to humility on their knees in the confessional as soon as they opened their arrogant mouths. Hey hey hey. The saints are also like that. Yikes!
Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.