It’s taken a long time to straighten out my understanding of humility. As a child I was taught that to say anything positive about yourself was vanity and a display of pride, one of the seven capital sins. This misunderstanding seems to have been overcorrected in recent times.
Social media provides a forum for extolling our accomplishments, posting selfies, and offering our brilliant opinions to anyone interested in scrolling through our tweets and texts, posts and pins. Neither extreme touches the essence of this prized virtue. Neither self-abasement nor self-aggrandizement come close to the true nature of humility.
Kenneth Himes, theologian and professor at Boston College, defines it as a virtue that “allows us to see ourselves as we truly are; creatures loved by God yet not the center of the universe. Humility allows us to see others as they are, not mere supporting actors in my story, but also as creatures loved by God.” When I place this definition alongside people who embody it, the value of the virtue becomes all the more apparent.
When considering role models of virtue, certain names come to mind immediately – Pope Francis, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela. They are the giants who seem to live in a different realm, one that few of us feel capable of entering.
Closer to home, however, I know many models of humility.
My sister, Mary Ellen, is one of them. She was eighteen when I was born so I have few memories of her living at home prior to marriage and motherhood. What I do recall is the loving care she has always given to her family and the dedication she showed to her work as a medical transcriber. She was never one to pat herself on the back for the long days she put into her job or bemoan the difficulties she endured, particularly after the sudden death of her husband, John. Mary Ellen might not be the first person to stand out at a social gathering, probably because she’d be busy helping the cooks in the kitchen. While I have always admired her, it has taken many years to come to a fuller appreciation of her many gifts.
Such is the way with the humble. They take their place with quiet and unassuming grace. Their value, however, is inestimable. No wonder that Jesus recognized them as most qualified to inherit the earth.
…For catechists and teachers. There are many saints who exemplify the virtue of humility. Learn more about their lives and download activities to share with your students.
Download my Prayer for Virtue and use it to increase your awareness and appreciation of humility and all Christian virtues.