When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, he responded by saying, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Besides putting God at the forefront of everything we do, the next most important thing we can do on this planet is to live selflessly. That means putting the needs of others ahead of our own.
Recently on The Inner Life, Josh talked with Father Rob Kroll, SJ about ways to grow in humility and capitalize on opportunities to live for others.
Josh recalled a meditation from Rev. Francis Hoffman in which he said the concept of sacrifice can come down to two phrases: either “me first” or “you first”. When we think about the action we are about to perform, just think about whether it’s putting “me” first or “you” first. Pride, the root of all sins, will always begin with “me” and my needs. “But the virtue that defeats pride is humility. And humility, it allows us to say, ‘you first,’” said Josh. However, as with most good things in life, that’s easier said than done.
Father Rob agreed, saying that none of us have it figured out, as simple as the formula might be. In addition to Josh’s tip of using “you first” versus “me first”, Father proposed the “J.O.Y.” acronym. When remembering what our priorities are in serving, Jesus is first, Others are second, and Yourself is last. But, as mentioned before, nobody’s perfect and Father Rob admitted that he often forgets about the acronym of selflessness and gives in to pride.
Father Rob said that one of the topics he addresses to seminarians is humility and obedience, the main antidotes of pride. In research for a presentation, he discovered a witty quote from Benjamin Franklin about the danger of the deadliest sin, pride. “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.” While he jests, the irony of that statement is all too real. Pride is so powerful that even in our virtuous triumphs, it can succeed in diminishing our humility.
Father mentioned that another danger we fall into when trying to overcome pride is that of moral scrupulosity. While we should feel bad for our sins and avoid them at all costs, what’s done is done and the best we can do is to repent and try to do better. While we would think that scrupulosity is a disorder of excessive humility, it is actually a form of pride. We are putting our sins, our faults, our actions at the center of everything, insistent that they are more important than they are. We are overlooking the infinite mercy of God in our search for perfection. True humility encourages us to admit our mistakes, humble ourselves in reconciliation, and embrace God’s forgiveness. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Josh added that that was the difference between humility and false humility. In that same way, there is a bad pride as they discussed, but there is also a good pride. Father Rob said that humility is misunderstood because it doesn’t mean practicing self-degradation to lessen one’s accomplishments. The root of the word “humble” is the Latin humus, meaning ground. One who is humble is merely grounded in reality, self-aware. When they are aware of the good things they or a loved one has done, they can be proud in a good way. “So, it’s not denying that we’re great creatures, but it’s recognizing that it all flows from the Lord, and we would be nothing without Him. So, I like to make a distinction between an ‘accurate’ view of self and a ‘negative’ view of self.”
Father said that there are certain traits in a person who exudes humility that we should try to imitate. Firstly, someone who is secure in his relationship with God often acts with poise and calm. They’re not very erratic or skittish. Their lack of worry or anxiety shows how unafraid they are of an outcome because they have submitted themselves to God’s will. Secondly, they are often very kind and compassionate, even to others who they may not agree with. Instead of thinking about themselves first, they’re thinking about it from others’ perspectives. And thirdly, they are great at expressing their gratitude, to the people around them and to God for all of His blessings. As His created beings, God didn’t have to give us anything, but He gave us everything.
Upon the advice of Father Rob Kroll, let us try to find role models of humility in our lives. Look at the traits and virtues they exemplify and let us imitate them. We can allow them to teach us, and in our learning, practice a new exercise in humility.
Listen to the full conversation below:
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