What does our Master command, who has most truly said of Himself: “Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart”, “Go, sit down in the last place?” When He came into this world, he was born in a stable, and died on a cross. Truly, no one, when born, could have found a more lowly place; nor, dying, a more disgraceful one. And while He lived, He was poorer, not only than men, but even than the beasts of the field: for the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air their nests, “but the Son of man had nowhere to lay His head.”
But what means, “Sit down in the last place?” This is the meaning: wherever you are, however great you may be, always consider yourself worthy of the last place. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, gives a reason for this where he says: “If any man thinks himself to be something, whereas he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (6:3).
He did not say, he who thinks himself to be great, or superior to others, either in wisdom, or power, or virtue; neither did he say, if any one think himself not to be great, or superior to others, but only equal to them; he said, “If any man think himself to be something.” In fine, he did not say, since he is poor, or unlearned, or ignoble, but, “Whereas he is nothing.” Thus the apostle could not descend lower, in order to designate the “lowest place,” and to give a worthy explanation of the words of our Lord.
But it may be said, it is necessary that men should be in high stations such as, prelates, princes, kings, emperors, and pontiffs. Be it so: but yet each one ought to sit down in the lowest place, until the Lord shall say, “Ascend higher.” Of this St. Augustine gives us an illustrious example, which I will mention in his own words: “From these that love the world I have separated myself: with those who govern the people I have not considered myself equal, nor at the banquet have I chosen the highest place, but the lower: but the Lord said unto me, “Ascend higher” But so much did I fear the episcopacy, that I would not have approached it, since among men the fame of a certain name had spread; and in this place I knew there was no bishop. I was on my guard, and endeavored as far as possible, to be saved in a humble situation, not to be in danger in a high one. But, as I have said, the servant ought not to contradict his Lord.” (De Vitâ Clericorum)
Each one ought to think others better
St. Gregory teaches in his pastoral, and St. Augustine more clearly in his 109th Epistle: “Let your dignity” he says, “be honourable before men; but, before God, place it under your feet.” Each one ought to think others better, and therefore higher than himself. For he is properly and truly the greatest, who is the greatest in the sight of God; and he is the greatest who is the best; and he is the best who excels in virtue, whatever may be his dignity, riches, titles… Virtue alone makes a man good, not dignity, riches, or titles; and if virtues make a man good, greater virtues make him better, and the greatest make him the best. And they who possess virtue in a higher degree excel all others. Now, we may know that humility is one of these great virtues, because our Lord Himself says: “He that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
It is dangerous to prefer ourselves to others, but most useful to humble ourselves before all men. Wherefore, our Lord absolutely says: “Sit down in the lowest place.” But how many comply with this divine precept? For what do men contend more than for precedence? What labors do those endure who endeavor to reconcile men that quarrel about a point of honour! How many do we often hear using these words of Scripture, “I will not give my honor to another ?” And yet the Most High speaks thus in Isaiah, to whom alone such words belong. God alone ought not to be humble, since humility is the virtue that restrains a man from desiring to ascend above himself, but since God dwells in the highest heaven, nothing can be above Him. Wherefore, pride is intolerable, because a worm of the earth dares to say, “I will not give my glory unto another”.
And yet, these same worms whom pride so swells that they say with God, “ I will not give my glory to another,” humble themselves as to acknowledge they are the slaves of honor that is, of a false esteem. And so faithfully do these serve their master, honor that they rather prefer to be cruelly slain in single combat, and to descend into hell, (and thus lose eternal life, and their temporal one at the same time,) than suffer any affront to be given to the idol of their honor Vanity of vanities! Oh, how much doth this smoke of honor blind the eyes of the soul!
And yet we call ourselves Christians, and know that Christ heard from His enemies: “Behold a man who is a glutton and a wine-drinker Thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil. This man casts not out the devils but by Beelzebub the prince, the prince of devils;” and yet no one heard Him exclaim, “You are a liar” but, because He was meek and humble of heart, “Who, when he was reviled, did not revile: when he suffered, he threatened not: but delivered himself to him that judged him unjustly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
Goto Prayers For Humility
– – – written by St. Robert Bellarmine