The Three Phases of Humility

Three "degrees" of humility once raised in people's minds the image of three dynamic ways of living under God. "Phases" raises in our minds the changes that a living being passes through, more or less permanent, epigenetic (they build on one another), and always moving toward some kind of fulfillment and completion.

Humility is not a quality or a status, like eye color or height. Rather, it is the ongoing, appropriate enacting of a relationship, first of all of a relationship with God. Humility is like health (a complex set of relationships); it goes up and down, is more or less intense, good or bad.

The humble person positively, gladly, and creatively accepts creature hood. They affirm their limitedness in concrete particulars. They embrace having to depend entirely, in all, on God and actually delight in that. They do not demand to control everything in life, but deal with life as with a surprising series of gifts.

The humble person accepts creature hood as they find it. They include in this humankind's sinful condition, and that sinfulness in themselves. This acquiescence in the way things are I do not mean connivance, and I do not mean passivity flows from the decision to see things as they are and not to retreat into the subtle rejection of God's creating and governing by refusing to see things as they really are.

The first sign of the mere presence of humility comes when a person knows himself and their life world, with some clarity and objectivity. This is what the old dictum means: "Humility is truth."

But as Scripture says, “we are to do the truth lovingly.”  This means that humility must be enacted. It is not merely an attitude, and it is much less merely a feeling.

I see the world as it is. I see myself, first of all, desiring certain things. I might, for example, want a certain job or to live in a certain city. However, I understand that I do not determine which of my desires lead to my authentic life and to my deep happiness; I depend on God for that. God the Creator and Lord has created certain values for and in me, so when I evaluate any thing or any action, I cannot make up the rules on my own. So, if I value very highly writing a certain letter in order to get the job I want, and then realize that writing this letter would violate my own conscience very gravely - then I do not write the letter. God sets my values. To use language we once used: I want and value certain things very highly, but I would not under any circumstances choose to place a desire or a value that I have in front of the desires and values that God writes into my own conscience. I depend on God for my conscience. I am gifted by God with a conscience - this concrete conscience, with its own dictates. I acquiesce in the concrete dictates of the conscience, I am glad to depend on God and to acquiesce.
To put it succinctly: I live to obey God who speaks in my spirit. For I know this: God has placed deepest in me a desire for Himself and I have chosen to enact my desire to belong to God before I enact any other desire, and I will enact no desire that would separate me from God. This is the first phase of humility.

I begin to find in myself the desire to find God and to grow to love God. I do not spend my time "avoiding sin"; rather, I spend my time finding God. In this mind-set, I would not go against my own conscience deliberately even in relatively unimportant things. It is not so much that I want to keep from offending God and violating my own honesty and integrity. I have changed in this, that I have chosen to love God, and not just to obey God. Of course, I still want career, and job, and very much else, and in the pursuit of these things I often discover that I can attain a very important objective by just the mildest violation of my own conscience. I generally manage not to do that. I fear God, of course, and I dread acting unauthenticated. One thing helps a good deal: I see how vain and empty much of the world is. I see how futilely I would live, for example, were I to give myself entirely to the job I love. I would be a fool to count on earthly things to give me lasting happiness - they don't last. So, I see and perceive from within my own creature hood. I have happily accepted the wisdom of the prophets and the wise of old: The Lord's is the earth and all that is in it. But the fact is that I would find it impossible to follow my conscience so carefully except that a great love is growing in my life.

In this phase, I come to see the earth and all that is in it through other eyes: the human eyes of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus came into a culture utterly unlike my own except in certain essentials: people then wanted wealth, power, fame, and pleasure just as people today want them. Jesus went against culture and human inclinations, by choosing to be born poor and to live poor, by electing to join the powerless and the outcast. I do not find it so easy to go against culture. I take my culture into myself and then contribute to it in my turn; and following that culture, I want to know a lot and to be known as wise, to have many skills and to be known as an accomplished person, to have wealth and to be known as a solid citizen. But along comes my Lord Jesus Christ. I am seized by His Spirit, and filled with His love. I come to love Him to this extent, that I really want to see as He saw, evaluate as He evaluated, appreciate as He appreciated, and simply to live the way He lived. He so humbled Himself that He poured Himself out, living like the lower classes, making the simplest and most outcast welcome in His company, always serving. He kept on His course even when the choices He made under the Spirit led to great suffering and to a cruel death. I find to my astonishment that I want very much to follow along after Him in all that. I deliberately suppress any desire to be famous, powerful, wealthy, and known to be wise. I want to live as He lived. However, I do not demand that specific kind of life from God my Creator. I accept with my whole heart that the choice does not finally rest with me; and humility means precisely that I acquiesce in what God our Lord creates in me.
In this phase of humility, some find themselves in this state of mind: I know that I am a sinful person, and I find it astonishing that I feel summoned to intimate friendship with Jesus Christ. I know that His way leads to dying to the self. I know His way leads to the crown. While I do not feel impelled to go looking for suffering or invited to inflict suffering on myself, I do feel perfectly ready to take whatever suffering comes along, and I will accept it as from the hand of God because then I will be following Jesus.

Some find themselves in the following state of mind: I have come to love Jesus Christ with my whole self, and even if I am a sinful person, I want to be really poor so I can be like Him. I want to be misunderstood and looked down on. I truly desire to experience these hard things with Jesus, as long as no one who inflicts them on me insults God or offends his or her own conscience. For Jesus chose to live this way. He lived a quiet and hidden life, for a long time. He was let down and disappointed. I truly want all that, because I will be following Him more closely.

These are three phases or degrees of humility. They are three ways of loving God. They are also three ways of acknowledging my own creature hood, and three ways of entering into what it means to let God shape my values. The first is the way of the commandments. The second is the way of creative, active indifference. The third is the way of imitating Christ.

If I can let my own desires rise, I can take them first to the Lady Mary and ask that she ask Jesus to call me where He wants me. Then I ask Jesus to grant me to live authentically, and to give me the courage to live as His Spirit leads me. Finally, I turn full-hearted to the Father.