by Fr. James Farfaglia
Shortly after he became the president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, he happened to be walking in an exclusive section of town. A wealthy white woman stopped him and ,not knowing the famous Mr. Washington by sight, she asked if he would like to earn a few dollars by chopping wood for her. Because he had no pressing business at the moment, Professor Washington smiled, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to do the humble chore she requested. When he was finished, he carried the logs into the house and stacked them by the fireplace. A little girl recognized him and later told the lady who the wood-chopper was.
The next morning, the embarrassed woman went to see Mr. Washington at his office at the Institute and apologized profusely. “It’s perfectly all right, Madam,” he replied. “Occasionally I enjoy a little manual labor. Besides, it’s always a delight to do something for a friend.” She shook his hand warmly and assured him that his meek and gracious attitude had endeared him and his work to her heart. Not long afterward she showed her admiration by persuading some wealthy acquaintances to join her in donating thousands of dollars to the Tuskegee Institute.
Humility is the most basic of all of the Christian virtues. Belief in God requires humility. It allows us to believe in someone greater than ourselves, to admit that we’re not the center of the known universe.
We can’t truly love without humility because it allows us to forget ourselves, put aside our self-centered desires and love others.
What exactly is humility? Of all of the definitions I’ve come across, I think Saint Teresa of Avila gave us the most helpful one. She said that humility is living in the truth (“andar en la verdad”).
Humility allows us to live in the truth in our relationship with God, ourselves and our neighbor.
First, we need to remember that God is God and we are not. We live out our relationship with God by being obedient to his loving and provident plan for our lives.
Second, we live in the truth with ourselves by becoming our best self–developing our skills and virtues and talents, not by trying to be a copy of someone else.
Third, we live in truth with our neighbor through mutual respect, kindness and acceptance.
In this Sunday’s gospel narrative, Jesus speaks to us about the virtue of humility:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones” (Matthew 11: 25).
Humble people are delightful to work with and easy to live with. They make great friends and are always fun to be with.
But humility is not a virtue that comes easily. Benjamin Franklin once wrote:
“There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
Winston Churchill was once asked, “Doesn’t it thrill you to know that every time you make a speech, the hall is packed to overflowing?”
“It’s quite flattering,” replied Sir Winston. “But whenever I feel that way, I always remember that if, instead of making a political speech I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big.”
Humility is a gift. We need to ask God to make us humble. But asking for this virtue is not enough; we need to practice humility. Every day presents many opportunities to practice humility. And the more we exercise humility, the humbler we will become.