"Humility," says Saint Bernard, "is
the foundation and guardian of the virtues." He is right,
for without it no other virtue can exist in the soul. Were a soul to possess all
the virtues, all would disappear were humility to go. But, on the other hand,
as Saint Francis de Sales wrote to Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, "God loves
humility so much, that whenever he sees it, he immediately goes there."
This beautiful and necessary virtue was unknown in the world in early days.
But the Son of God came on earth to teach it by his example, and he willed that
we should endeavor to imitate him in that virtue particularly: Learn of me,
because I am meek and humble or heart (Mt 11:29). Since Mary was the first
and most perfect disciple of Jesus in the practice of the virtues,
she naturally excelled in the practice of humility. For this reason,
she deserved to be exalted above all other creatures. It was revealed
to Saint Matilda that it was humility in which the Blessed Mother particularly
excelled, even from her very childhood.
effect of humility of heart is a lowly opinion of oneself. Mary always had such
a humble opinion of herself that, as was revealed to the same Saint Matilda,
although she saw herself enriched with more graces than all other people,
she never put herself ahead of anyone. Abbot Rupert, commenting on the passage
of the sacred Canticles: You have wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse...with
one hair of your neck (Cant 4:9), says that the humble opinion Mary had of herself
was the hair with which she wounded the heart of God. Not that Mary considered
herself a sinner. Humility is truth, as Saint Teresa remarks, and Mary knew
that she had never offended God. She also knew that she had received
more graces from God than all other creatures. A humble heart always acknowledges
the special favors of the Lord in order to humble itself all the more.
But the Blessed Mother, because of the greater light which made her aware
of the infinite greatness and goodness of God, was also aware of her own
nothingness. That is why she humbled herself more than everybody else, saying
with the sacred Spouse: Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, because
the sun has burned me (Cant 1:5). That is, as Saint Bernard explains it: "When I
approach him, I find myself black." This is true, says Saint Bernardine,
because the Blessed Virgin was always vividly conscious of the majesty of God
and her own nothingness. When a beggar is given a costly gift, he does not show off
with it in the presence of the donor. He receives it humbly and remains conscious
of his own poverty. So when Mary saw herself enriched with grace,
she humbled herself; reminding herself that it was all God's gift. That is why
she told Saint Elizabeth of Hungary that she looked upon herself
as a worthless creature and unworthy of the grace of God. And that is why
Saint Bernardine says that "after the Son of God, no one
in the whole world was ever so exalted as Mary, because no one ever humbled
himself to the extent that she did."
Moreover, it is characteristic
of humility to conceal heavenly gifts. Mary wished to conceal from Saint
the favor which made her the Mother of God. At the same time it seemed necessary
to reveal the secret to him, if only to remove from his mind any suspicions
as to her virtue which he might have entertained on seeing her pregnant. Saint
Joseph, on the one hand, did not wish to doubt Mary's chastity; and yet on the
other hand, being unaware of the mystery, he was minded to
have her put away
privately (Mt 1:19). And he would have done so had the angel not revealed
to him that his spouse was pregnant by the operation of the Holy Spirit.
Again, a soul that is truly humble
does not allow herself to be praised. And if praises are showered on her,
she refers them all to God. Mary was disturbed at hearing herself praised
by Saint Gabriel. She was also disturbed when Elizabeth said: Blessed are you
among women....And how have I deserved that the mother of my Lord should
come to me?...Blessed is she who has believed (Lk 1:42,43,45). Mary
referred everything to God, and replied in the humble words of her canticle: My soul
magnifies the Lord (Lk 1:46). This was the same as saying: "You praise me,
Elizabeth, but I praise the Lord, to whom alone all honor is due. You wonder
why I have come to visit you, while I wonder at the divine goodness
that has come to me. And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Lk 1:47). You praise
me because I have believed; but I praise my God, because he has exalted my nothingness.
He has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid (Lk 1:48)." Our Lady said
to Saint Bridget: "I humbled myself so much, and have merited so much grace,
because I knew that of myself I possessed nothing. That is why I did not want
to be praised. I desired only that praise be given to the Creator and Giver
of all things." Referring to the humility of Mary, an ancient
author says: "O truly blessed humility, which has given God to men, opened heaven,
and delivered souls from hell!"
It is also characteristic
of humility to serve others. Mary did not hesitate to go and help Elizabeth
for three months. Saint Bernard aptly remarks: "Elizabeth wondered
why Mary had come to visit her; but - what is still more remarkable - that she
came not to be ministered to, but to minister."
Humble persons are usually
retiring and choose the least honorable places for themselves.
Therefore, as Saint Bernard remarks, "when Jesus was preaching
in a house (as we learn in Saint Matthew), Mary, wishing to speak to him,
would not enter of her own accord but remained outside, and did not avail herself
of her maternal right to interrupt him." And when she was with the Apostles
waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit, she chose the lowest place,
as Saint Luke relates: All these with one mind continued steadfastly in prayer
with the women and Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Acts 1:14). Saint Luke was
not ignorant of the Blessed Mother's merits, which should have caused
him to name her first. However, Mary had taken the last place among
the Apostles and the women. And therefore he described them, as an
author remarks, in the order in which they were. Saint Bernard says: "The last
has rightly become the first, because being the first of all she became the last."
Finally, people who are sincerely humble
do not look for favor. In fact, they love to be despised. That is why we note
that Mary did not show herself in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday when the people received
Jesus with so much honor. On the other hand, at his death, she did not
hesitate to appear on Calvary. She was undeterred by fear of the ridicule
she would incur when it became known that she was the mother of the criminal.
On one occasion, Mary said to Saint Bridget: "What is more humbling than to be
called a fool, to be in need of things, and to believe oneself the most unworthy
of all? Such was my humility, O daughter. It was my constant joy and desire
to please my son in this way as much as I could."
Venerable Sister Paola of Foligno
was privileged to see in an ecstasy how great the humility of the Blessed Virgin was.
Giving an account of it to her confessor, she was so filled with astonishment
that she could only say: "Father, you can never understand how great the
humility of the Blessed Virgin was! There is no humility in the world comparable
to the humility of Mary." On another occasion, Our Lord showed Saint Bridget
two women. The one was all glamour and vanity. "She is pride," he said, "but
the other one whom you see with her head bowed, courteous to all, devoted to God alone,
and considering herself as a nobody, is humility, and her name is Mary." God chose
that way of letting us know that Mary is the personification of humility.
There can be no doubt,
observes Saint Gregory of Nyssa, that of all the virtues there is perhaps none
more difficult for our nature to practice, tainted as it is by sin,
than humility. At the same time, we cannot evade this truth: We can be true
children of Mary only if we are humble. "If you cannot imitate
the virginity of the Blessed Virgin," says Saint Bernard, "imitate
her humility." She detests the proud, and invites the lowly to
come to her: Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me (Prov 9:4). Richard
of Saint Lawrence writes: "Mary protects us under the mantle of her
humility." The Blessed Mother explained to Saint Bridget what her mantle
was. "Come," she said, "and hide yourself under my mantle.
This mantle is my humility." She then added that meditation on her humility
was a cloak or mantle with which we could warm ourselves. But since a mantle
gives this service only to those who wear it and not to those who merely think
about it, she said: "Mary's humility will not help anybody except those
who endeavor to imitate her." And she concluded with these words: "Therefore
clothe yourself, my daughter, with this humility."
O how devoted
Mary is to humble souls! Saint Bernard says: "She recognizes
and loves those who love her. And she is ready to help all that call on her,
especially those who resemble her in chastity and humility." So the saint
exhorts all those who love Mary to be humble: "Strive to imitate
this virtue of Mary, if you really love her." Marinus or Martin d'Alberto,
of the Society of Jesus, used to sweep the house and collect the trash out
of love for the Blessed Virgin. One day Mary appeared to him,
as Father Nieremberg relates in his life, and thanked him saying: "I am very
much pleased by this humble action which you do for love of me."
It follows then,
O my Queen, that I can never really be your child unless I am humble.
But surely you understand that my sins, after having made me ungrateful to my Lord,
have also made me proud? O Mary, you must provide the remedy.
By the merit of your humility, make me truly humble, and help me in that way
to become your child. Amen.