Contemporary Western culture seems to promote nothing but pride these days; it insists that only those who are proud, selfish, and disobedient can effect change or succeed in life. But salvation history and the lives of the saints tell us a different story—namely, that pride is the downfall of mankind, and that humility is what ultimately exalts us.
Humility is a difficult virtue to embrace because it is such a quiet one and is often mistaken for what it is not. In his Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas describes humility thus: “Truly, the virtue of humility consists in this, that one keep himself within his own limits; he does not stretch himself to what is above him, but he subjects himself to his superior.” Being humble does not mean debasing yourself and refusing to acknowledge that you have any gifts or talents whatsoever—and some would argue that in fact, such an attitude is actually hidden pride! The truly humble man understands that he is not the greatest at anything, and that while he is better at something than others might be, his gift ultimately comes from God and is to be used for the glory of God, not for personal accolades. The prime example of this is the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was a young woman without wealth or powerful connections, and yet her submission to the will of God altered the course of human history and opened the door for the divine Messiah to enter the world He would one day redeem. She did not attempt to argue that she was utterly unworthy of the grace bestowed on her, but rather submitted with her humble fiat, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”
The truly humble man knows his own limitations—he submits to the authority not only of God and of the Church, but also to the legitimate authority of the government and the workplace. A humble man does not go looking for opportunities to gain power and prestige. He dies to himself for the sake of others—he harbors no resentment when others’ work is extolled while his goes unnoticed, and he uses those moments of humiliation to draw closer to Christ. The humble man continues to use his gifts even if no one but God is going to see or acknowledge them. And when his gifts and accomplishments are acknowledged by the world, the humble man turns that praise back to God instead of focusing it on himself. The humble man does not need to project an Instagram-perfect image of his life to the rest of the world: he accepts that he is a work in progress, can admit when he is wrong, and can accept criticism with grace.
Sometimes true humility seems impossible to achieve. Because we are fallen creatures wrapped up in ourselves, we have to constantly work toward selflessness. One method of doing this is by praying The Litany of Humility. This prayer asks Jesus to deliver us from desires and fears fueled by pride—from the desire of praise, to the fear of being wronged. But the beauty of this litany is that it not only asks that we be freed from our pride, but it also asks for the grace to desire that others may be better than we are, loved more than we are, holier than we are. True humility is not downplaying our own roles, but is setting aside our own desires so that others can rise higher and do more for Christ than we ever could. It’s being the Andrew to someone else’s Peter and the Barnabas to someone else’s Paul—calling forth someone to the good or encouraging their potential, even if means that person becomes greater than ourselves.
Matt Maher has his own take on the Litany of Humility in his song “Every Little Prison.” What I like about Maher’s version is that he adapts the prayer to be more recognizable for the modern Christian. Pride takes many forms in this era of Instagram followers, Facebook “likes,” and the 24-hour news cycle—we spend time “wondering if I am relevant and liked” and “wanting to be seen.” Ultimately, humility requires us to turn to God instead of other things and to trust in him, in his mercy and his wisdom, rather than becoming slaves to our fears of being judged, or of not being loved, or of having to let go. By praying for freedom from the prisons created by pride, may we live more confidently in the love of God and in doing his will.
Helena Romano is Editing Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
It was a sunny but cold day in October. Twenty young men in long, dark habits knelt in the big, roomy church. The melody of the old organ, played by an invisible musician, echoed through the building. That melody was unknown to me. On that day, I believed that every corner of that church and my heart were full of the melody of glory.
I was one of the twenty men kneeling near the altar who had received from the hands of a priest the big silver cross. It was attached to a ribbon that was a black as coal. This was the act of my eternal sacrifice to God. In my shaking hands, I held the crucifix of the One to whom I promised to be a member of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate. I promised chastity, poverty, obedience, perseverance, the sharing of resources, and the spirit of service. I remember noticing that it was like a wedding: the melody of that song had some similarity to a wedding song, although it is possible that it was just the melody of my heart...
After one year in the priesthood, I was completely immersed in pastoral work. Holy Mass, catechesis, and long lines to the confessional before Christmas and Easter filled me with happiness. Often when having conversations with people, I would ask them who Jesus was for them. Once, when I met a classmate from school, she asked what made me decide to become a priest. I tried to explain to her that it was a calling to follow God and to explain the happiness that I had in my heart. However, the more I tried to explain to her, the more I understood the weakness of my arguments to a non-believer. After that conversation, the question that Jesus made to the apostles “Who do you say that I am?” often appeared in my mind. Who is that One to whom I offered my life in the Pallottine community?
I was the assistant to the parish priest near my hometown, and I was also a chaplain in a neuropsychiatric clinic where there were more than 200 men with different mental disabilities. I thought that I was used to the unusual situations that sometimes happened during Holy Mass: interruptions, babies with smiles on their faces, spontaneous and childish simple questions that they asked. However, there were still many things I was not used to, like the young burdened man at the clinic who touched the cross that I sometimes wear and asked me, “Who is that man?” I was a little confused by his question and tried to give him a simple answer—I just said that he was my friend. This answer was enough for the young man, because he understood the concept of friendship. His nurse Anna and caretaker Julia, who suffered with him in his illness, embodied friendship for him. Then I noticed that my answer was not just an answer to his question, but also to my own. “Who do you say that I am?”
Friendship—this is one word with which I can describe my consecrated life. Friendship is not easy because it implies relationship, maturation, and a constant internal struggle with selfishness. I have noticed that in arduous times in my life the voice of my Friend can be heard more strongly. I have heard that voice many times throughout my Pallottine life. Maybe it was the voice of that invisible musician who played the melody in my heart while I first held the big silver cross in my hands during my final vows. I know that this voice has been calling me to bring the words of His Gospel to many different people and areas, which sometimes are very dangerous and unpredictable.
I believe that—like the melody in that church where I was kneeling near the altar with my confreres—my consecrated life gains new notes, changes, and rhythms each day. It is not possible to change the melody. I just try to hear the voice of the Eternal Master, the invisible musician, for whom I have consecrated my life in the melody of His glory.
This year, we celebrate World Day for Consecrated Life on February 2. For more resources to guide you through vocational discernment, please click here.
To learn more about St. Vincent Pallotti and Pallottine spirituality, please click here.
Fr. Vyacheslav Grynevych, S.A.C. is a Pallottine Priest from the Ukraine. He is studying in the United States and working with the Center.