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May humility be the path
Dave Carrano

“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (Jas 4:6)

“Humility is the mother of all virtues.” This phrase, or a variant of it, has been said by many people over the years. The foundational virtue of humility is necessary for us to be rooted and grow spiritually.

It is easy to misunderstand the virtue of humility. One often thinks of a humble person as having little self-confidence, not wanting to make waves, and being easy to bowl over. This is not authentic humility. Jesus was the most humble of all (cf. Phil 2:8), yet he was confident enough to call someone out of their tomb, courageous enough overturn the tables in the Temple, and strong enough to stand up to the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. What we sometimes erroneously think of as humility is actually better termed “false humility.”

You have probably heard the phrase “the virtue is in the mean,” meaning that authentic virtue is always found between two opposing extremes. In the case of humility, the virtue is between the extremes of pride and false humility (or self-deprecation).  

Sadly, the concept of virtue has fallen out of our daily experience. What is a virtue? Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous [person] is [the one] who freely practices the good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1804). Humility roots us in what is true and good. When humility becomes a virtue, it is the habitual foundation out of which we act and view God, ourselves, and the world. To be humble frees us to live a good life, and protects us from falling into pride or false humility.

For Christians who follow a liturgical calendar, the season of Lent begins with the humble act of placing ashes on our heads. We pray, “O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers” (Ash Wednesday Roman Catholic Liturgy).

True humility will make us open to God’s work in our lives, because we’ll recognize our need for Him. It will give us a real sense of who we are before God — sinners, indeed, but sinners who are made in God’s image and likeness, are loved by Him, and are capable (by His grace) of living like Him. Humility rejects the voices that tell us that we aren’t good enough to do good. It frees us to be who God made us to be: salt and light (cf. Mt 5:13-16) and partakers of the divine nature (2 Pt 1:4), without giving in to spiritual pride and thinking that holiness is our own accomplishment.  

No matter which way our world goes, may humility be the path of every Christian, and every person of good will who is seeking what is real and true. Prayers for a fruitful Lenten season to all!

— Reflections appears regularly on the religion page. The column features a variety of local writers, coordinated through the Monroe Area Clergy Group. Fr. Dave Carrano is the new Parochial Administrator of St. Clare of Assisi Parish (Monroe and Brodhead), St. Francis Parish (Belleville and Albany), and St. Joseph Church (Argyle), working as part of a team of three priests who began their ministry here on July 1, 2023.