What is the virtue of humility? According to St. Thomas Aquinas, “The virtue of humility consists in keeping oneself within one’s own bounds, not reaching out to things above one, but submitting to one’s superior”. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines humility as, “A quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God’s sake.” Simply put, a humble person recognizes that God always knows best.
While reading Chapter 1 of Luke’s Gospel, I was struck with the contrast in the humility of The Blessed Virgin Mary and Zechariah. Both were given a message by the angel Gabriel, but reacted in two different ways. Zechariah didn’t believe that his elderly wife would be able to conceive a child at her age and was subsequently rendered unable to speak. Before you think that this was unfair, keep in mind that Zechariah was a priest and was therefore familiar with the story of Abraham, whose wife also conceived at an advanced age. Therefore, Gabriel’s message was not something which was out of the realm of possibility. In the case of Mary, she is given the message that she is about to become the mother of the long-awaited Savior of the world. Mary then asks a simple question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” and is told that she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit. If that were me, I would have said, “Is this some kind of a joke?” The angel’s answer certainly wouldn’t have cleared things up in my mind! But Mary, humbly trusting in God’s will, replied, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
We all struggle with issues of pride in our life. Many times we think we know better than God. Of course we deny it, but subconsciously that feeling is still there. It becomes obvious when we lose our job, become sick or experience the death of a loved one. This can’t possibly be what’s best for me! For some, it comes in the act of disobeying a teaching of the Church. We may feel that it’s acceptable to vote for a pro-abortion presidential candidate because preserving our job is more important than following the guidelines put forth by the infallible Catholic Church. We may defy the teachings of the Church and use artificial contraception because we don’t feel we should have another child. What does the Church know about having a child or supporting a family? I know better than they do.
Problems arise in our lives. Sometimes we struggle to figure out why God permits “bad” things to happen to us. We can either rebel or humbly listen to God’s words when He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9) When difficulties arise and we question how they can be good for our eternal salvation, it is good to remember the words of St. Paul, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Rm 8:28)
In a few days, we’ll celebrate the Baptism of The Lord. How much more humble could Jesus have been than to allow Himself to be baptized by John? Let us strive to always imitate the humility of Jesus and Mary. If you struggle, ask them to help you… they won’t let you down!