Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Tightrope of Humility

The great philosopher Aristotle wrote that virtue lies in the mean, between a vice of excess and a vice of defect. The virtue of humility illustrates Aristotle's point perfectly.
Humility, simply defined, is the virtue of understanding one’s place before God, and acknowledging total dependence on Him. When it comes to humility, Catholics must walk a tightrope. We must reconcile our total dependence on God with our ability and indeed our command to do great and incredible things for His glory - and act accordingly.
On one hand, humans are merely dust, and to dust they shall return. (referencing Genesis 3:19) We would be completely powerless without Him, as Christ tells us: “Without me you can do nothing,” We are mere specks in the universe.
Dwelling on our smallness and our impotence without our Master leads to the vice of despair. The knowledge that we are tiny and impotent without God leads to the realization that our lives are meaningless without the love of God.
On the other hand, humans are capable of great things, exploring and subduing land, sea, air, and even space. Each and every person was made by God with a special purpose in mind for him and for him alone, and are irreplaceable in the eyes of God. God appoints Christians with the triple office of priest, prophet, and king in the sacrament of Baptism - giving us a high and noble calling.
Dwelling on our importance and self-worth leads to the vice of spiritual pride. In focusing too much on our own gifts, we can come to ignore our total dependence on God.
Each and every human being is capable of and indeed called to incredible greatness. At the same time every human being is radically dependent upon God. This odd combination of human frailty and greatness is one of the paradoxes of Christianity. Our human dignity and our calling makes us inherently great – while our fallen nature and our total dependence on God makes us tiny.
As with all paradoxes, the paradox of humility can only be resolved through Christ. Only by constant obedience to the teachings of Christ can we avoid the twin pitfalls of pride in our own self-worth and despair at our smallness in the universe.
Humility, the acknowledgement of our humble station and the recognition of our calling given to us by God, is the ultimate tightrope walk between vice and virtue - one only resolvable through fidelity to Christ.

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