Humility. Is there any other word that is like kryptonite to the soul? I do not know about you, but if there is one virtue I avoid talking about or exemplifying, it has to be humility. No, I do not run around telling the world how great I am. On the same token, I do not consider a humble attitude to be my strong suit. Just like the next guy, when people talk about their accomplishments, job promotions, house they own, beautiful girl they are married to or five year plans, do I chime in and try to one up the competition? Absolutely. No one wants to appear weak.
Is Humility Weakness?
But this is exactly what we equate humility with: weakness. If some one is humble they are soft-spoken, weak, unsure of themselves and afraid to assert their opinion or any kind of authority.
This was my perception of humility. I bought into the lie that humility meant living in a prison of shame over your sinfulness and weakness. I thought, as Martin Luther did, that I was no better than a dung heap covered in snow. Luther believed that humanity was justified by God’s grace on the outside but the inside, our heart and soul, were tainted beyond any and all redemption.
When we believe humility is equated with our brokenness we can go one of two ways. We can either hide in a prison of shame, fear and isolation as I did or we swing to the other side of pendulum and take pride in our brokenness. How many people have left the Church because they believe their sin defines them? How many men and women boast in their brokenness? Sadly, more than we know.
When we cling to this so-called perception of humility we allow the life God intended for us to pass us by. Sure everything might look great on the outside, but at the level of the heart, our passions, hopes and dreams are being sucked out of us.
So, This is Humility: Quiet Confidence.
This is not what humility is. Thomas Aquinas says, “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."1 To comprehend what Aquinas is talking about, we need to once again embrace the hidden gem of humility: confidence. Confidence means to do something with faith and trust. How does this tie into Aquinas’ definition of humility?
Confidence: Knowing Your Strengths, Acknowledging Your Weaknesses
Confidence means having faith in and trusting your abilities as well as embracing them. This is what Aquinas means when he says to “stay within your own bounds.” You do not downplay your gifts. You multiply the talent God has given you! Michael Jordan was blessed with remarkable basketball skills and is a five time NBA Champion. Tom Brady is an incredible quarterback and on-the-field leader who recently won his fifth Super Bowl Ring! John Paul II had an incredible charisma that led the world to the end of the Cold War. Every time he appeared, crowds gathered by the thousands to see him! Saint Maximilian Kolbe had the gift of encouraging fellow inmates at Auschwitz. His words were so inspiring that thousands of prisoners found the strength to survive that “hell on earth” and return to their families
Humility also means acknowledging that you have weaknesses in certain areas and this keeps us from “reaching out to things above us” as Aquinas states. Jordan was cut from his basketball team at one point and has anger issues. Tom Brady has a language problem, got his girlfriend pregnant and then left her for another woman. John Paul II laments that he could have been firm with certain officials. Kolbe suffered from tuberculosis, near constant headaches, had the use of less than one good lung and was extremely feeble. Does this make them bad men? Not at all. It means they are human like the rest of us.
God: The Greatest Confidence, The Deepest Humility
The last part of Aquinas quote is “submitting to one’s superior.” We should submit to good, lawful superiors on this earth.
However, the one superior all of us should submit to is God. By this I mean we are all called to place our total confidence in God above all else. True humility acknowledges that everything we have is here because of him. The day exists because God wills it. We exist because God desires us to exist and share our talents with those he brings into our lives.
Humility trusts in God through the good times and bad and seeks His will no matter the circumstances. Humility seeks out God in everything and rejoices when they have found Him. The confidant person never boasts in themselves, but boasts in God because they are well aware of who they are, where they come from and where they are going.
Confidence above all else, allows us to place our faith in God because He has faith in us. Likewise, we can trust God because he has entrusted us with various talents and gifts so people may know Him through us. When we begin to reach this point in our lives we have begun to find the beauty in humility, which is confidence in the very heart of God himself!
1 http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07543b.htm, (Summa Contra Gent., bk. IV, ch. lv, tr. Rickaby)