The word humility comes from the word humus, which means earth, or in particular the under-earth. The dark soft spongy earth without any plant decay still in it. Our word humility can make us think of the words at Ash Wednesday, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is said that humility is the first of the virtues, because it situates us in reality and lets us receive the truth of all the other virtues – it is always the best place to start when building virtue. Humility is the contra virtue to pride, which is the root of all vices. When we practice humility, or we allow God to humble us, He removes all the things that would prevent us from growing and soaring to the heights of virtue so we don’t grow as a crooked tree or a tower with weak foundations.
Last week we spoke about being magnanimous, or seeking to be great in virtue and spirit. How in the world do those two pair together? Well both are virtues and luckily the virtues don’t work against each other. Humility is the truth with charity, and the truth is that God wants us to be the greatest most virtuous men we possibly can. At the same time we need to acknowledge that it is God who has given us everything and He is the one who is above all. Do you see how they can go together? God is above all so we need to humbly submit to him and others who are his servants and creatures and at the same time he calls us to be great, to be the strong, powerful, virtuous men He has called us to be.
Both magnanimity and humility derive from hope. This is probably not immediately intuitive. How can hope be the source for those? When we hope in God we are not putting our confidence in our own strength or power. We are trusting in Him, and this can easily lead us to humility. When you trust a king or a commander and follow them you are practicing humility. You trust them to make the right decisions for you, even when they could be potentially dangerous. Now, how can magnanimity derive from hope? Hope looks to the future, especially to heaven. Getting to and seeking heaven means striving to always be better and to grow in virtue, to seek Christ and to imitate him.
We can practice humility in a lot of different ways but a good way to find what you need to work on is to try to find the ways that you are most proud. Look at where you think you are most confident, do you lord that over others? Look at how often you talk about yourself, maybe count the times you use ‘I’ and ‘me’ when you speak or write. What about where you are insecure, do you try to hide your weakness so you can appear better than you are? When I was younger I didn’t know certain words that my friends were using and instead of just asking what they meant I pretended to understand, which made me look even more stupid when they found out I didn’t know. Humility is not to be confused with self bashing, it is about being honest with charity. So if you are good at something it doesn’t mean pretending you aren’t. It means acknowledging your gifts as coming from God and turning all praise back to Him.