By Francis Patrick Donnelly
THE HUMBLE HEART
Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.
I.ALL the virtues practise humility. They recognize deficiencies and defects. They bow in submission to the law. You have seen soldiers stand at attention on the firing-line and face towards the enemy. If there was no submission to one higher up, if there was no enemy to face, the army would disintegrate into the scattered aimlessness of a picnic. Humility is the discipline of the army of virtues, keeping them ever at attention, ever facing the foe, ever ready for the command, "Forward." When Christ our Lord opened His school and issued His prospectus, He promised His pupils perpetual meekness on the part of the Teacher. That single qualification would insure a full school, if the applicants were only certain of the meekness outlasting the opening day or the first class. Christ foresaw the misgivings of the candidates, and He hastened to add to His first qualification a second and crowning one: "Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart."
The meekness would last. It would always remember that it had a high standard above it and a host of good qualities to attain to, because the meekness always would be humble of heart. Every one, therefore, would troop into the school of Christ, welcomed with a glad, abiding smile, with no shadow of a ferule lurking in the background. Even the bruised reed would enter there and have its fragile and torn fibers not crushed to powder, but mended into wholeness again. And the smoking flax would come in full confidence that the gracious, condescending Teacher would stoop even to its feeble lowliness and with the breath of charity kindle its dull, faint spark into the glowing flame of life.
Yes, humility is a daily virtue in the great classroom of Christ, and pride daily haunts the schools of the Pharisees. Humility stoops, but pride holds its head high, treading on insignificant straws and stamping out the impertinent smoke of smouldering weeds. Both have their yokes and burdens; but, whereas humility studies carefully the weak muscles and tender flesh, fitting all with gentle, loving fingers, pride haughtily casts its yoke upon its slaves and arrogantly orders them to drag their cheerless burdens. Humility says with kindly voice: "Friend, go up higher." Pride thunders at its shamefaced followers: "Give this other man place." Humility and pride begin all their sentences in the same way, but end them all in opposite ways. Pride cries: "I am not as the rest of men; O God, I give thee thanks, I am not unjust." Humility whispers, "I am not as the rest of men; God, be merciful to me, a sinner."
How well humility was taught in the school of Christ is evident from the object lesson he gave in that virtue. The Pharisees were the forbidding examples of pride. They were prominent, loved the first places, advertised their piety, trumpeted abroad their good works. Whitened sepulchres, cold and unyielding, was a good name for the proud people whom all should shun as they would a graveyard. Far other was the model of humility. In a splendid exhibition of true teaching, meek and humble teaching, Christ introduced His standard of humility to His Apostles. The child is the object-lesson in this great virtue. The child is too small to look down; it looks up to others. It is too young to know it has excellences. It is too healthy and active to pose before a mirror. To be proud one must reflect and be self conscious. Children do not know that they are virtuous, and they could not remember it long enough to be proud, if they did know.
A true teacher must ever be humble. He is forever coming down to another man's level. Judged by that standard, how humble is the Heart of Christ that stooped from the highest heights of divinity to the level of our humanity! To have humility it is not necessary that one should be capable of pride or sin. The mother loves all the more intensely even though it is impossible for her to hate her child. The Heart of Christ could not sin, could not have defects, and yet It had the truest humility, because with all truly humble hearts It saw that Its riches came from God. Without God It would be poor and nothing. Christ need not have felt the humiliation unless He chose; but He did choose and did feel it.
Consider the successive depths of humility to which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity descended. The Heart of Christ is the flower of the sublimest humility, stooping from Heaven to earth, the subjection of the divine to the human, an act which St. Paul made his supremest effort to describe by the words, "emptying Himself and taking the form of a slave." Even in that infinite plunge there were deeper depths. Christ need not have subjected Himself to the conditions of human birth, the nine months, the swaddling clothes, the nursing, the ills and helplessness of infancy, the growth in wisdom and age. Had Christ come in the fullness of manhood, He had avoided all that; but should we have had the same realisation of His humble Heart? The Heart of Bethlehem and of Nazareth was not more humble than that of His public life, but it seems so to us, because we come closer to It.
Still deeper did Christ's humility go. He put Himself below men's whims and desires, men's ignorance and vices. He was perpetually renouncing Himself and perpetually conforming to others. In a sense He renewed every moment the humility of the Incarnation. His humanity, had He so desired, would from the first have been transfigured and glorified; but He clouded the divinity under the ordinary exterior of the ordinary man. Thabor lifted for a moment the eclipse of His humility, but His Heart enshrouded Itself once more and every moment denied Its assumed nature the manifestation of the splendour and loveliness and joy of Heaven. Yet, other and deeper abysses of humility yawned before that Heart, and down them It descended. At the feet of Peter and Judas, beneath the scourge of the soldiery, under the crown of mockery, upon the cross of shame, into the desolation of the malefactor's tomb, thither the humble Heart brought the tortured human nature.
Surely, in the Passion the Heart of Christ sounded the fathomless depths of humility. Ah, no! It created a profounder void still into which it lowered Itself. In the Incarnation Christ emptied Himself of His divinity to become a man; in the Eucharist He emptied Himself of His humanity, it might be said, to become food and drink. The Heart that could stoop to the bruised reed has passed into the ground wheat and the crushed grape. As the pupil watches his Master casting Himself down where depths descend upon depths, it will not be so hard to stoop from the level of manhood to the slightly lower level of childhood. Jesus, humble of Heart, make me one of these, Thy little ones!