Humility: Between Pride and False Modesty

By Marc Massery

Sunday, Jan 17, Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
•1 Sm 3:3b-10, 19
•Ps 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
•1 Cor 6:13c-15a, 17-20
•Jn 1:35-42

Have you ever met someone who only ever seemed to want to talk about and draw attention to themselves? We can all be like that at times. In her Diary, St. Faustina says it well:

How can one be pleasing to God when one is inflated with pride and self-love under the pretense of striving for God’s glory, while in fact one is seeking one’s own glory? (1139)

John the Baptist never sought his own glory. In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, as John was standing with two of his disciples, Jesus passed by, and John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). Then John’s two disciples left him and followed Christ, which they would do for the rest of their lives. John had spent a lot of time with his disciples, so he must have known them pretty well. He must have known that to speak the way he did about Jesus in front of them would cause them to follow Christ, a new, better teacher than John. John wasn’t a jealous person. He knew his place, and he knew that he was created to draw others to Jesus — not to himself. 

When the disciples turned to Jesus, He said to them, “What are you looking for?” They asked Him, “Where are you staying?” He replied, “Come, and you will see.” (Jn 1:38-39).

While some of us tend to talk too much about ourselves, others have the opposite problem: a sense of false modesty. Some of us would do anything to avoid attention, even if the attention we receive is valid and appropriate. 

Jesus didn’t suffer from false-modesty. He knew that He was the Son of God and that He had much to offer these disciples. He didn’t shoo them away when they asked Him where He was staying. He invited them to come and see for themselves!

We all have gifts and talents to offer the world. When others show an interest in us, when others compliment us, it’s OK to recognize the good that we are, the good that we do. (After all, any good we do, we do by the grace of God). But we should also lift others up, as John the Baptist lifted up Christ. Between pride and false modesty, there's humility. To be humble means to see ourselves as we truly are and to appreciate others for who they are. 

In her Diary, St. Faustina wrote much about the virtue of humility:

O humility, lovely flower, I see how few souls possess you. Is it because you are so beautiful and at the same time so difficult to attain? O yes, it is both the one and the other. Even God takes great pleasure in her. …God raises such a soul up to His very throne, and the more she humbles herself, the more God stoops down to her, pursuing her with His graces … (1306)

As St. Faustina mentions, few souls possess true humility. The Lord wants us to be humble — He wants us to see ourselves for who we truly are: men and women who were created good, fallen from grace, but who have accepted the mercy of God. The Lord wants us to ask for the grace of humility, because only He can really give it to us. As we grow in humility, we’ll find it easier to accept a sincere compliment. We’ll find it easier to lift up the goodness and virtues of others. And we’ll find it easier to bring others to Christ, the source of all humility. 

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