Humility for Marists

In order to see how our Marist spirit may really help us to grow in the deepening of our baptismal and religious consecration to God and the achievement of our human and religious vocation, the idea I will take is that humility is for us' the SOURCE OF PEACE. And this idea is very traditional. We have it in the 'Imitation of Christ' 1:6 'It is the detached, the humble, that are wholly in peace'. However, we have to be careful to avoid a possible and very easy ambiguity. In a part of the spiritual tradition of Christianity and especially in the very good and basic book 'The Imitation of Christ' we have to notice - because it is a fact - a certain influence of the Stoics. Passages of the Imitation are simply quotations from Seneca, a pagan philosopher, and hence is Greek or Latin wisdom which is not necessarily bad, but not necessarily the purest expression of our Christianity.

An expression like this one 'Whenever went among people I came back less a person' is typical of a pagan philosophy. 'I come back less a person ' - Why? Because the ideal of humans in this philosophy is precisely in the mind of the human. Humanity is really realized in their mind and it is in the purity of their mind that they are in communication with the eternal and universal mind of the Stoics. And the best person is the one who will not be involved with anything else, but really in the contemplation - the purity of their thought - that they will be in communication with the eternal mind; then every opportunity for them to go out to meet other people, to get them involved with other activities, will make them less a person. That is a typical Greek philosophical expression. It is not the idea of Christianity. It is not what Our Lord Jesus Christ did when He left the bosom of His Father, when he was in pure contemplation, to go out into the world, “propter nos”, or “to become a man and to get involved with other people”. He did not become less man because he came amongst us.

The real spirit of Christianity is not to try to find a harbour of tranquillity, a harbour of pure contemplation with the eternal mind, but really to be a witness to Jesus Christ among fellow people. That is our vocation as Christians, and is realized only in the Church, only in a community of people whose lives we have really to share. And as for the idea of the 'hidden life', we are not to forget that the first one to praise it was not Father John Claude Colin or any spiritual author. Epicurus, the famous Greek philosopher of the third century BCE, His famous motto was 'hide your life' meant to get real happiness out of life we were not to be worried about other things or anybody else.

So to get the right idea we say that humility is not a source of peace through the reduction of our desires, through the limitation of our concerns, of our undertakings, of our researches through the elimination of any struggle for an ideal which would be the one of Epicurus or the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca from the first century.

No! For Christians, Humility is the result of a struggle of a dialectic which leads us from the experience of our limits to full confidence in the power of God. That will he realized through an effort from Us to realize to divert attention from ourselves and direct them towards God. And this dialectic has never perhaps been better expressed than in the Article on Humility in the Constitutions by Father Colin (Chapter 8, Article 2.) . This is one of the best articles to have come from the pen of Father Colin, but its structure is not easy to find in the later editions of the Constitutions.

The Article in the Constitutions is made up of 6 parts, and each part has three elements; one of these elements is a quotation from scripture. Unfortunately, not all these quotations are inserted in the text of the modern Constitutions.

In this article we have the article we have 6 elements and in all these cases Fr Colin first considers certain human experiences, all of which are very well known, and which are ambiguous - they may be taken in a very good sense or a very bad one.
  1. 'Dum vere humilis ex cognition sui sibi vilescit...' or in English “This is self-knowledge” – that a person gets when he is about 40 years old, when he realizes what life is, and what he is not and will never be. A young person of or 20 years may dream that he will become a great athlete or a president of a republic etc. But after 40 he has no longer any illusions about that- He knows what he is and what he is not, and this self' knowledge is really the knowledge of our limitations and how little we really are- This may lead to a kind of depression. The fact of really knowing ourselves may in fact be a really Legible experience.

  2. 'Dum sibi diffidit...' or in English “diffidence of ourselves, which may really paralyse our efforts”. WE have failed so many times that there is a fear of new undertakings. Remember the man who said to Father Colin: 'Father, really I would like to go to the house of La Neyliere because that is really the only possibility for me, I do not succeed in any of my undertakings; my life I have been a failure.' And Father Colin did not encourage him to go to La Neyliere. 'We always fail because we look to ourselves, and if we are not looking so much at ourselves we would be able to do something for God.' Difference of self may really paralyse our efforts.

  3. 'Dum divinis faveribus se indignum reput...' or in English “The sense of our indignity, which comes from the consideration of all our sins - not only the sins of weakness, but also so often the deliberate ignoring of the grace of God for Us, the grace of our vocation, the grace of so many opportunities for us, so many retreats etc, that could help us in our spiritual life - despised and ignored by us.

  4. 4. 'Dum se cmnium minimum in interiore homine aestimat”... or in English “The sense of our inferiority”. This of inferiority, which may very easily become a complex, is well studied to-day by all the psychologists. It is a great reality which may really prevent us from doing any good. Others are successful, we say, good teachers, good preachers etc, but I am one who has not the same ability - I cannot do these things -- I am only a second class type - I am a weaker man... and so comes an inferiority complex which may prevent us from doing any good.

  5. 'Dum se omnino inutilem putat...' or in English “the impression of our timidity”. This is the experience of so many Marists to-day, especially in Europe when the world is going so quickly and so fast, and a person of 45 or 50 finds themselves so much out of date in their way of thinking or preaching. Some Marists of 50 to 60 tell me in retreats that their lives are now useless - what can they do in this situation where they seem to be so useless?

  6. 'Dum in abjectionibus exerceri et contemni desiderat...' or in English “A research for self-contempt which also can become a kind of complex, a kind of perversion” - a need for destroying ourselves. We meet this kind of person sometimes in confession - people and priests trying to make themselves so bad - that is not humility. It is a kind of bad tendency, a kind of need to destroy themselves; perhaps to justify themselves in another way - a tendency which may very well become morbid.

These are the 6 human experiences that we know are part of our lives - and human experiences which are completely ambiguous.

All this ambiguity will be overcome and purified when we refuse to stop at the consideration of ourselves and listen to the word of God, which reminds us we are not to lock out ourselves to Christ, at His Kingdom. Father Colin wrote in his copy book when he was in the fourth class - quotations therefore which impressed Father Colin from his youth...

  1. Philippians 2:21 -then he seeks not his own interests but those of Christ.

  2. Philippians 4:15 - 'There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the one who gives me strength,'

  3. 1 Peter 5:3 - God 'refuses proud and will always favour the humble .

  4. 1 Corinthians 1:27 - God, who 'chose what is weak by human reckoning' makes him useful to all.

  5. Matthew 23:12 - All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
And it is then, by listening to the word of God, which reminds us not to look at ourselves but at Jesus Christ, at His kingdom, that we can do all things in Him who strengthens us, that God makes use of the weak things of this world to confound the strong; - all that will completely change our attitude and transform these experiences which could lead us to depression to the sense of greater strength and responsibility in the hands of God. Forgetting ourselves and all our difficulties and worries and having the courage to work in spite of them for God and with God, we then get in touch with the reality. We overcome the neurotic tendency which consists in making of our-selves the centre of the world.

The greatest enemy of humility is pride - yes! But there are also all those neurotic tendencies which will always cut us from reality. Humility will be the cures it will be the attitude through which we will finally get in touch with reality - to know what we are and what God has given us. For the Marist Founder, Colin, and the other founders are examples of what humility may achieve in a person, how much it may make them overcome their limitations and become a great servant of the Lord.

The Marist spirit of humility helps us not only to meet the needs of people and be good apostles and to answer the needs of others, but it also helps us in our personal growth, in our personal life in Christ, in the achievement of our human and spiritual vocation.

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09 January 2021

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Father Jean Coste sm

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Reflect on how humility, not from a Stoic or Greek perspective, but as a Christian in relationship with other people, mind call to live more fully present?

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