“Ask a Priest: What Is Humility Like?”

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Q: I’m finding it hard to know what humility is exactly. I know Jesus has humility. It’s not being a doormat. In a way, the devil tries to tell me everyone else knows what they are doing and I don’t. Are you able to help me distinguish between pride and humility? Is humility being God-confident rather than self-confident? I usually confess the sin of pride, but I’m vague about when I was proud, though I know I can be. – P.B.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Pride is the mother of all vices. We put ourselves first. We might think our opinions are better than others’. We get mad when people overlook us or slight us. We push for our “rights.”

In a word, we tend to follow what we want rather than what God wants.

And what does God want? Our Lord Jesus showed us. He wants us to help others, think of others’ needs. He wants us to bear our sufferings with patience and to unite them with his suffering on the cross.

In a word, humility is an antidote to pride. Humility means living in the truth.

And the truth is this: God created us. Everything good we have is a gift from God: our family, our faith, our health, our talents. None of this came from us. So we shouldn’t be boastful about what we have.

Moreover, everyone one else around us was created out of love by God, too. They are his sons and daughters. Christ died for all of them, too, out of love. We should aim to show that same love for everyone.

The more these truths sink in, the more we realize how much we owe to God.

Now, we want to be careful to avoid a false humility. For a person to say, “I’m no good, I’m worthless” is not humility, since it isn’t true. All of us have the image of God in us. All of us are redeemed by Jesus. All of us have value.

In light of our faults and weaknesses, true humility sounds like this: “I’m weak, I’m a sinner. But I have been redeemed by Christ, and with God’s grace I can improve.” This is real humility because it reflects the truth about who we are and what we can achieve with divine help.

As you mention, humility doesn’t mean we have to become doormats.

There are times when it’s admirable to suffer in silence. But it’s not healthy to let people walk over us habitually. It isn’t good for them, and it doesn’t help our state of mind. Fraternal charity can require that we speak up and call people to a greater show of respect.

Some ways to cultivate humility have been linked to a certain modern saint:

— Speak as little as possible about yourself.

— Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.

— Avoid curiosity about things that shouldn’t concern you.

— Do not interfere in the affairs of others.

— Accept annoyances with good humor.

— Don’t dwell on the faults of others.

— Accept censures even if unmerited.

— Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.

— Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.

— Don’t seek to be admired and loved.

— Always pick the harder task.

For more reading, see Humility of Heart.

I hope some of these humble suggestions help.

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