“As it is impossible to build a ship without nails, so it is impossible that man saves himself without humility.” These words coming from a laywoman who lived all her adult life in the desert are very revealing. Healthy relations with others, states another Desert Father, flourish if we understand that “there is no bigger virtue than not despising the other”. “The humble person is not the one who despises himself but the one who welcomes with joy the grievances and the offenses that come from others.”
How can we achieve this? “Accustom yourself slowly to say of everyone, ‘this brother will precede me in the kingdom of heaven’ or ‘this other brother is more dedicated in his prayer than me’ or ‘this other brother is more assiduous in manual work’. In this way you will finally arrive to consider yourself beneath everyone and the Spirit of God will remain in you. If on the other hand, you despise someone, the grace of God will withdraw from you and will give you up to the filth of the flesh, your heart will harden itself and there will be no more repentance in you.” How true!
Abba Sisoes was dying. All his disciples were around his bed. His face was shining like the sun. He told them, “Abba Anthony has come to fetch me and take me to heaven.” After some time, he said, “the choirs of prophets have come also.” His face started shining even more as he exclaimed, “Even the choir of apostles is here”. Then he started speaking with someone. “With whom are you speaking, Abba?” the disciples asked. He answered, “I am speaking with the angels who came to take me to heaven but I asked them to let me begin doing some penance before I depart this earth!” The disciples were surprised. “But Abba, you have already done enough penance. You have spent all your adult life doing penance.” “I did not realize that I have even started doing penance!” he exclaimed. Humility is walking in truth. And the truth is that we can never do enough.
A devil was attacking furiously the serenity of this monastery. How could they kick him out? The superior thought of sending the most ascetic monk to exorcise him, but the devil made fun of him, “What can you do against me, fool? I am more mortified than you – I never eat, I never drink…” Therefore they thought of sending the most pure monk. Again the devil scoffed at him, “You believe that you can instill fear in me? Even if you are so pure, you are the proudest of them all!” As a last resort, the superior decided to send the monk ‘who was worth nothing’. When the evil one saw him approaching, he ran away frantically, exclaiming, “Nothing can beat me, except humility!”
The classic Imitation of Christ puts these words in the mouth of Jesus, “I visit my elect in a double fashion, with temptation and with consolation. And I read to them two lessons each day: one to rebuke them for their faults; the other to exhort them to increase their virtue.” If we learn to listen to these two lessons, we shall become humble.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.