By Deacon Lou Malfara
Special to The CS&T
As a manager of a large computer center, I was surrounded by very bright people. One such person was arrogant in dealing with clients and staff. I confronted him about his behavior, especially his demeaning attitude toward others. This behavior was not conducive to team work or to establishing harmonious working relationships. I told him that he had no cause to be arrogant because he wasn’t perfect and that I did not want to see this type of behavior again until he earned it by being absolutely perfect in every way.
What I told this young man many years ago was silly because he could never have earned the right to be arrogant. If anyone on earth had the right to be puffed-up, it was Jesus Christ, who took the form of a slave, abasing Himself to become like us in all things except sin. St. Paul understood what humility was because Jesus was the perfect model for him, and likewise for us.
“For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves” (Gal. 6:3). He expands further, “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3). He also warns, “Do not be haughty” (Rom. 12:16).
So what is this humility and how does one attain it? Humility doesn’t mean that one negates one’s gifts and accomplishments. On the contrary, being humble is recognition of the truth about ourselves and what we have done well; and admitting, too, when we have failed. It is false humility when someone congratulates us about a job well done and we loudly protest our contribution. Humility would have us respond to praise with a simple, “Thank you.”
One does not obtain humility easily. Spiritual writers advise that humility is necessary to make progress in the spiritual life. My lessons in humility continue as I lead a life of prayer and service. It seems to me that the obstacles, burdens and mishaps of life are really stepping stones of humility that lead us closer to Christ.
Having been faithful to prayer for over 25 years, especially centering prayer, I reached a point where it seemed that the only fruit of my prayer was an awareness of my brokenness and weaknesses. I was embarrassed to realize that my notion of sanctity included walking around with a pious look and shiny halo, beckoning everyone to notice this holy creature. It was pure fantasy. God showed me in the depth of my soul how I really looked compared to His holiness. And He did this with gentle kindness. He continues to teach me that His love for me is genuine despite my weaknesses; and this awareness evokes prayers of praise and thanksgiving.
Humility is not a matter of words or feelings. It means to pour ourselves out freely, not living for ourselves as St. Paul indicates in 2 Corinthians 5:12.
St. Paul’s self-confidence does not negate his humility because this self-assurance is based on his conviction that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection gave man the gift of eternal life: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6). His self-reliance was not in himself, but in Christ.
St. Paul’s formula for living defeats the wisdom of the world: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do” (Col. 3:12-13).
Permanent Deacon Louis Malfara is director of parish ministry at St. William Parish in Philadelphia.