We seek to imitate the humility of Christ.
“And let them who possessed nothing while in the world not hold their heads high because they associate with people whom they did not dare approach in the world, but let them rather lift up their hearts and not seek after what is vain and earthly. Otherwise, monasteries will come to serve a useful purpose for the rich and not for the poor, if the rich are made humble there and the poor are puffed up with pride” (The Rule I, 7)
For Saint Augustine, pride is the desire to replace God with oneself. It is the original sin from which all other sin emerges. Two primary ways the pride emerges is through the desire for praise and through the desire to control/dominate the circumstances we find ourselves in (along with other people). Pride therefore often manifests itself in the human quest for things such as social status, titles, material possessions, pleasures, etc. Pride manipulates and distorts our motivations, and Augustine therefore warns that pride can lurk even in good works (The Rule I, 8). Once pride dominates our motivations, we become motivated not by the true source of our fulfillment and happiness (i.e., God), but by “earthly things” such the aforementioned examples of social status, titles, material possessions, pleasures, etc. This directly impacts not only our personal relationship with God, but also our relationships with other people as our motivations move more and more toward self rather than toward the common good of all people leading to a world of injustice and suffering.
We often see pride manifest itself in a number of life contexts. We see it among ministers who engage in a ministry not out of genuine concern for those they serve, but to be seen and perhaps invited to more prestigious positions within the Church. We see it in the workplace as someone dedicates theirselves to the mission of the workplace not out of a genuine desire to support the mission but out of a desire to climb the organizational career ladder. We see it in public officials who govern not out of genuine interest in the common good of all their constituents but out of a desire for fame, wealth, and re-election.
Once pride dominates our life, it is hard to let go of the attachments that pride brings to our lives. This is because pride misleads us to place our identity in what we have or what we do rather than in God, in whose image and likeness we are made. This directly threatens the unity & harmony, generous sharing, and care and respect that are essential to sustaining community.
Augustine therefore contends that humility is the primary virtue of for the common life because humility is the antidote of pride. The source of that antidote (humility) is Jesus Christ. God “cures us with his own humility” by showing us, through the self-emptying of Jesus Christ, the path to reclaiming our true identity (i.e., children of a loving God rather than what we possesses) and reordering our motivations and search for fulfillment not in earthly things but in God alone.
This happens as we contemplate Christ. The more we contemplate Christ, the more we begin to follow his example and find the source of our true happiness and peace. This is the foundation for Augustinian interiority. As we begin to rely on Christ as the true source of our happiness and fulfillment, we grow more loving and generous towards others out of interest not for ourselves (as pride leads us to believe), but for the common good of all.
This is the foundation for the principles of the Augustinian way of life.
However, it is important to note that humility is not self-degradation or avoidance of the basic necessities of life. It is rather a reclaiming of our true identity in Jesus Christ, which as Catholic Social Teaching affirms means reclaiming the freedom and dignity inherent in being made in the image and likeness of God. Humility is about service to others, but is not about being a doormat for others to simply take advantage of. Humility often demands a degree of moderation and self-denial of the things that the world offers, but humility does not mean that one has to forgo their basic needs that prevent them from being free and able to share their gifts with others.
Essentially, humility is a willingness to generously share the gifts you have been given as one created in the image and likeness of God for the common good of all people, while also knowing your human limitations, especially your own inclination towards pride which “can lurk even in good works” (The Rule I, 8).
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Reflection written by Jeremy Hiers, O.S.A.
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