Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Humility: a virtue that comes more easily to the poor

by Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 3, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

“When you’re as great as I am, it’s tough to be humble.” These were the tongue-in-cheek words of a college friend from New York years ago, when I questioned him about bragging over some accomplishment.

Humility is one of the inspiring virtues that many of us struggle with. We recognize it as desirable when we see it in others, but making it a part of our own modus operandi is easier said than done.

What is humility? Why does our faith attach so much importance to it? How do we go about perfecting it in ourselves?

The word “humility” conjures up different meanings. In a positive sense, it reflects the personal characteristic of being modest or unpretentious. Carried a little further, it connotes an absence of pride or self-assertion. If we go back even more, to the realm of etymology, we find it comes from the Latin humiliates, which means “to humiliate.”

Thus it is not surprising that we tend to associate humility with submissive or even mortifying activity. Perhaps that is why it is so easy to associate the notion of humility with the lives of the poor. The poor are automatically humbled by the absence of material goods that are a source of pride to other human beings.

But humility can also be an avenue to the acquisition of spiritual grace, for it is almost a prerequisite of prayer. Christian prayer is the manifestation of a relationship between God and man. And humility gives us the contrite and humble heart to want to foster that relationship.

So the poor could have a bit of an advantage over some of us in the development of their relationship with God. They do not have to first divorce themselves from the material goods that place superficial barriers of pride in the way of that relationship.

However, all the poor are not humble, nor are material goods bad, per se. In fact, we have a responsibility to accept and use our possessions, talents and skills. Of more consequence is the priority we attach to them and how we use and share them with others. It is not vanity to use and acknowledge them as gifts from God.

Nevertheless, possessions and accomplishments do present some with more of a challenge than others. But the goal for all is the same. It is to go beyond pride and inordinate ambition to a higher level poverty of spirit. This is a poverty of humility that acknowledges God as the author of all being. It is an unconditional love relationship that we, as creatures, share with our creator.

(Jerry Monks works with the diocese’s Guatemala Mission Commission.)


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