At the beginning of the year, I undertook a goal to read thirteen spiritual reading books, and started with Humility of Heart by Father Cajetan Mary de Bergamo. It was such a grace to *start* with Humility of Heart, because it made me realize that I just might not get to read all of these books in that time window! I am making my way through my book list, but it seems that I'll certainly take longer than I expected! I realized this was to likely be true with Humility of Heart taking longer than I expected to read simply because you can get caught up in reading, thinking, and praying over three short pages for over half an hour...there is so much depth in spiritual reads that you typically can't read them at the same pace you would any other category of writing!
While I mostly gave myself this challenge simply to push myself to finish many of the books I've started to read or have purchased with the best of intentions, I also committed to sharing my thoughts as I finished each book. Many of the books I've read or added to my list have come from other Catholic women sharing how the book influenced them, and for that I am super thankful! Humility of Heart was also the perfect book to start with from this perspective, because writing a spiritual reading book review on a book of this magnitude and impact is SO FAR out of my league, I have nothing to gain except humility in attempting to write it. Let's agree to start with the premise that I'm your average Catholic mom sharing thoughts, nothing profound or particularly notable about me or the thoughts in my head, and we'll do just fine, ha!
Humility of Heart is one of those books for me that ended up with a lot of journaling, notes, and underlining. Sentence after sentence, passage after passage is packed with explanations and descriptions of the virtue of humility that made me think about humility in an entirely different way. I closed the book around a bookmark many times with a desperation nearing tears, realizing how necessary this virtue is, and how far I am from possessing it. He pulls in many thoughts from Scripture, the saints, and doctors of the church, referring often to Saint Thomas and Saint Augustine. It's one that I am sure I need to re-read many times, that each time there will be more that stands out. There are a handful of things that were super impactful - while I was reading the book, these were the concepts I kept bringing up with my husband and friends. If we were chatting over coffee about this amazing book, I'd be trying to convince you to read it for these concepts especially.
Humility is truth. I grew up learning about virtues from a secular perspective - good behaviors and habits that make you a high functioning, successful, likable person. From that vantage point, humility is something entirely different than what it truly is in the eyes of Our Lord. My worldly view of humility was that it meant thinking lowly of one's self, esteeming others more than yourself, and not considering yourself more important than others. This kind of "humility" just works itself out to be pride, though, doesn't it? It's appearing to be humble, appearing to put others first, appearing to think lowly of one's self; but internally congratulating yourself for the accomplishment of acting in this way, of giving the perception of your humility. While those things are part of how a truly humble person thinks of themselves, they are byproducts of possessing the virtue in its truest sense. Humility actually has very little to do with *us* and everything to do with God. Bergamo does a wonderful job of helping us to see that what we are is simply created works of Almighty God, and humility is simply fully understanding that truth. When we exalt ourselves above what we actually are, we are crafting a lie - we simply cannot make ourselves out to be more than we actually are, in the eyes of God. "Every time I esteem myself, preferring myself to others, I deceive myself with this self-adulation and commit an error against truth." Pride is the lie that we are something beyond our own nothingness, the false thinking that we are, we have, or that we achieve anything of our own accord, that we are the cause of our own excellence, or that we should seek our own excellence above and beyond that which is the Will of God. What a beautiful antidote this is to a culture that is screaming out to us, especially women and mothers, to do more, to be more, to achieve more. Humility is the simple truth of our own nothingness, and loving and accepting that truth, in the light of what it means for pleasing Our Lord.
We have nothing to be proud of. In a similar vein, Bergamo shakes off all idiotic notions that we ourselves have any justified reasons for pride. I brought the book out to my husband one morning as he was trying to get ready for work, following him around and reading out loud, I loved this explanation so much. He describes a master placing burdens on his animals, meant for them to carry for him. One carries books, one has gold, another weapons, and so on. The absolute absurdity of these animals boasting of their knowledge, their wealth, their bravery - it made such a huge impact for me! The truth of humility does not mean that we pretend we have no gifts, no talents, no intelligence, etc - but it does mean that we first and foremost attribute these things *only* and always to God, and that we aspire to only the excellence that is His Holy Will in these gifts and areas. "All the good that is in us comes from God, and to Him alone we must give praise and honor." He explains so well our need to realize that all that is good in us comes from and belongs to God, and all that is wicked and lacking in us comes from ourselves. Again, in a culture that shouts at us to indulge in ourselves, to build up our self-esteem, to call ourselves awesome and take full credit - Bergamo's words are such a needed truth!
"Let us place humility above all things." Bergamo details the necessity for humility, reminding us that no one enters Heaven without this virtue. To place it above all other virtues and holy actions, we must face how strong our pride is, and begin to root it out through prayer and penance. As we pray for humility, humiliations will come. One of our favorite priests challenges often to add a scary component to our prayers - "at any cost." Before I read this book, he challenged through a sermon to pray "Lord, make me humble, at any cost." As humility is the highest, most necessary virtue, it likewise comes with the highest price tag - humiliations, being brought low, coming to see clearly how highly we've exalted ourselves through the process of down. If you've ever prayed for humility, you know exactly what I am talking about - and this process is most necessary! Instead of bringing only the bitterness of rejections, humiliations, and other necessary injuries to our pride, praying for humility and seeking to humble ourselves before the Lord brings us freedom and peace.
Humility brings freedom and peace. "The humble man enjoys peace and quiet because he lives according to the rules of truth and justice, submitting his own will in all things to the Divine Will. The proud man is always agitated and perturbed because of the opposition he is continually offering to the Divine Will in order to fulfill his own. The more the heart is filled with self-love, so much greater will be its anxiety and agitation." While I can't claim humility for myself, I have the grace to know many truly humble people where this is so very evident. The peace and freedom they experience, the simplicity of their lives speaks of how they unite their own will to the Will of God, regardless of circumstances. We see this in the lives of the saints, again and again, in so many different paths, but always the same peace and freedom, as they operate with true humility in accordance with the Will of God.
This book is a treasure, and one that I will need to read again and again. I hope I've done it the tiniest bit of justice and that you want to read it right away! If not, the failure is only mine - you will LOVE this book, it will be a spiritual life changer. Read it!
"And as Thou commandest me to be humble, I am ready to obey; but grant that, through Thy help, I may in truth become such as Thou dost desire."