Self-knowledge occurs in three places most commonly: in one's family, first of all, where one finds one's self living with those whom one did not choose to live, those with whom one may find have nothing in common with each other, besides blood and lineage.
The second place would be at work, wherein one must either lead others in justice and mercy, or be obedient and humble to those above one.
The third place is in community. Those religious who choose community understand the day to day rubbing off of sins, both obvious and those hidden, causing one to face one's self, and not run away from one's reflection as seen in the faces of those around one.
Religious life is more perfect, in that it is set up to obtain holiness and sanctity quickly, through the ancient tried and true rules of the various orders. Fr. Rodriguez refers to the rule of St. Ignatius of Loyola, of course, being a Jesuit counselor and spiritual director. He notes that one who does not seek self-knowledge is like an ugly woman refusing to look in a mirror. Rodriguez, like me, loves St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and uses his works extensively in the three volume book I have been following for weeks, The Practice of Christian Perfection. Those of us who fear self-knowledge do so because we honestly do not believe in the love and mercy of God, Who waits for us to be honest, so that He can show us the depths of His love. The first step, as we have seen, in the multi-step way to humility of St. Bonaventure, the one chosen by Rodriguez, is that of self-knowledge. Part of this first step is proper self-hatred.
In our society of narcissism and feeling good about ourselves, self-hatred is misunderstood as a loathing of existence, a denial that one is a child of God and heir of heaven, if one is baptized, and a creature of God owing God laud and honor, if one is not baptized. This lack of self-knowledge of who one is before God, either a lowly creature or an adopted son and daughter, lead to a false self-hatred, which the atheists see simply in terms of nihilism and fate.
What the saints mean by self-hatred cannot be confused with this false sense of disgust of being human, but with the sense of disgust against sin, whether Original, mortal, or venial.
A real test of whether one hates one's self in a good way is how one reacts to two things—the first is allowing someone to make a statement with which you disagree and let it go. One does not have to be right, or correct, or in the position of challenging everything. The second way one recognizes self-love rearing its ugly head is how one reacts to suggestions done in kindness, not in malice. But, this last response, how one reacts to malice, reveals truly if one is humble or not.
Recently, I was accused of something which was not true. I listened to the person and corrected their apprehension. When it was clear that the real conversation was about something else, a hurt deep down inside that person who was reacting to me as if I were another person, in other words, projecting something onto me which was not there, I backed down and agreed with this person and asked forgiveness. Although his perception was incorrect, what I should have thought of at first, and did not, was that I deserve all corrections, good or bad, true or false, and more, for my sins, both past and present. Also, the person was hurt from years of sins against him. I could have been less concerned about my own being in the right, and more concerned about his suffering. The fact that the person was hurt and could not see the real problem did not matter. God would take care of that in His Own time. I only had to be humble. I muffed this opportunity for a perfect response and pray for the grace to learn again this lesson of humility. Those who hate their own selves would have responded immediately in humility and grace. Thus, God showed me how far I was from true self-loathing.
We come into this world in Original Sin, which is enough to cause us to be humble, needing baptism and God's grace, His mercy won on the Cross and passed to us through the sacraments of the Church.
We sin, mortally, which kills the soul and earns one hell, and venially, which weakens the soul and stops the life of virtue from coming to fruition. There are very few people who have gone through the purification necessary for freedom from venial sin, and from concupiscence, which is possible, as I have noted in other recent posts. How far I am from this goal, but daily I beg God for these graces.
When one finally recognizes one's predominant fault, then the real cleansing begins. Father Rodriguez shares a charming but poignant story of Brother Giles, the follower of St. Francis. On hearing of the fall of the great Father Elias, who was excommunicated because of his support of the Emperor Frederick II, even though Father Elias was superior of the Franciscans. Brother Giles threw himself on the ground, face down for a long time. Finally, he was asked why he was literally clinging to the earth. He replied that as Father Elias had fallen from a great height, he, Giles, wanted to stay as close as possible to the lowly earth.
I shall keep this story in mind. God saved me over and over from receiving praise and high positions. I complained to Him years ago about me not being able to use my talents at a university, with a doctorate, and so on. He reminded me that He protected me from losing my soul, by allowing me to not climb the academic ladder, and that I should be grateful to be unseen, unknown, hidden.
In this state, I find I am most peaceful and have the joy of knowing that God protected me from a great fall of pride. I cling to the lowly dirt of the Midwest, again, about as hidden and lowly a place as I have ever lived. But, here, in the little chapel of St. Mary of the Angels and Martyrs, in Ephesus, I have an assurance of God's Mercy in my life.
Like Brother Giles, I cling to the grass, the earth, not desiring at all to be praised or even noticed.
One prays more effectively in hiddenness and contentment.
Again, Rodriguez shares another famous mythical story of Hercules overcoming Anteus, the giant. Rodriguez quotes Gerson in noting that whenever Anteus was smacked to the ground by Hercules, the giant gained strength, as he was a son of the earth. Hercules finally figured this out and held Anteus up high, squeezing him to death. Gerson states that this is what the devil does to us, holds us up high through the praise and esteem of men, so that he can overcome us with pride.
St Anselm, notes Rodriguez, that this second step of humility, is to suffer contempt with patience, meekness, humility. The Jesuit refers to Laurence Justinian, who wrote that humility is like a river, which is full in the winter, when things are difficult and rough, but low in the summer, as humility “decreases in prosperity and increases in adversity.”
I have been criticized on this blog by commentators in the past for being poor and asking for help, and yet, my confessor told me to be humble and ask for help. Whether people respond is their business, but mine is to be humble and ask for what I need. People do not like those who ask, as it means they have to respond, yay or nay. But, those who have been allowed by God to be the lowly of the earth must live in the hope of God's Providence, through the charity of others. So lived many of the saints throughout the ages, not hating their poverty, but loving it, as it caused them to not only suffer from want, but to be despised by men, and women. This is actually the fourth step of humility, to desire to be despised by other people, but I get ahead of myself at this juncture and go back.
Anselm states that we do not have to go out of our way to seek humble situations, but that God will bring these to us, if He pleases.
So, what does this have to do with times of tribulation, a thought I interject before going on to the third step of humility?
Simple. Can you not become angry when people abuse you to your face? Can you remain in peace when you are spurned because of your beliefs as a Catholic? Can you face the criticisms and even being ostracized by those in your own family with equanimity and peace?
Can you handle negativity when standing up to the truth of the real definition of marriage, known through both natural law and revealed law? Can you stand peacefully in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah and live your faith completely, without dissembling?
Can you be in love with the Church so much, as the Bride of Christ, to uphold Her teachings despite public disdain?
Can you sacrifice the approval of the majority in order to follow Christ fully?
And can you do this in peace, without any anger or complaint?
Then, you have acquired humility.
Can you remain peaceful when someone above you demands something in an imperious tone, or when someone misunderstands your good intentions?
To this level of holiness God is calling all of us.
The third step may be the most difficult. Rodriguez, using the levels of St. Boniface, regards not responding to the praise and esteem of others as this most interesting step. Detachment helps greatly with this step.
The other day I met a woman about my age who had succeeded in all the ways I did not in my life. She had her doctorate in British Literature, taught at a prestigious university for years, traveled back and forth to England, (and still does) at leisure to visit wonderful places I know and love. She has a great pension, a lovely house, a happy marriage, and can live in other countries part of the year. And, when I spoke to her of my interruptions in my career, I did not feel less fortunate. I am completely without envy or desire, as God has shown me the way of humility, of being unknown, of not having, not acquiring, not being loved daily by a good spouse, and so on. I felt a joy welling up that I belonged to God and that nothing on this earth mattered except what brings me closer to Him.
She has her way to God and I have mine. Divine Providence decides all things. I shall not be praised or esteemed in the academic community, ever. But, all that is passing. Now, as pointed out by Rodriguez in Psalm 87, I do not want to be praised as that causes me confusion. In fact, I may be punished by God, as St. Augustine notes, in this volume, because praise takes away from merit, the merit of humility. Indeed, I do not ever want to be praised, but only seen by God as doing my duty.
In the fourth step of humility, Father Rodriguez quotes at length my favorite, St. Bernard of Clairvaux. One may look at all the tags on this blog relating to this talented, saintly man. A charismatic leader with gifts including the counsel given to popes, St. Bernard knew what it meant to attain humility. God allowed him to be ill, which seems to be a common denominator of many great saints and Doctors of the Church. One thinks of Therese of Lisieux and St. Teresa of Avila, who experienced illnesses. Today, especially in America, the ill are looked down upon by the healthy. The cult of youth and health discriminates against the old and those with illnesses. One “should not be ill” in the States.
But, St. Bernard knew that the fourth step, which is to desire that men despise one, indicated that one had truly obtained humility. Rodriguez quotes St. Bernard on the two types of humility.
The first may be described as the one common to men and women who follow the steps indicated so far. People who see their sins and know who they are before God and man have this type of humility. But, as St. Bernard noted, Christ could not have this type of humility, as He was One with the Trinity. He knew He was God, and, therefore, He could not see Himself as lowly, as a sinner. But, the second type of humility Christ could endure and choose, which He did for our sake.
This second type is humility of the will and the heart. Philippians 2:7 tells us that Christ chose to be humbled, even to death on the Cross. This is chosen humility of the will and heart, and we can choose this as well.
I have a dear friend who cannot accept Christ as God because he cannot accept that God would become a human being. For him, Christ is the stumbling block to joining the Catholic Church. How could God, Who is All Perfect, All Good, All Beauty, All Truth, and Spirit, take on human flesh and all that means?
Yet, this is what Christ did choose out of love for us. Pray for my dear friend to accept that Christ became Man and still remained God.
Rodriguez writes about several examples of Christ's humility but one is letting the Jews chose to free Barabbas over Himself, letting a common criminal be freed and seen as less evil than Himself. How is it that Christ could choose such lowly pain and suffering, such hatred from His Own People? Because of the great love He has for us, Christ chose humility of the heart and will.
Can we do less? Can we endure the pain of the tribulation to come out of a great love for Christ? I pray for this grace. Father Rodriguez quotes St. Ignatius that this is exactly what martyrs need—in the Examen xllv. Rule xi, the founder writes this:
“..so they who have renounced the world, and truly follow Jesus Christ, ought fervently to desire whatever is opposite to the spirit of the world, and ought to take delight to wear the livery of their divine Master, out of the love they bear him; so that to become in a manner like unto him, they ought to wish themselves to be overwhelmed with injuries, affronts, false testimonies, and all sorts of ignominy,so that God were not thereby, and if the inflicting of them be no sin in their neighbour.”
I pray for these graces, as this is what is needed to be a martyr.