Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Recipe: Humble Pie

Monday I met up with some priest friends for some fraternity and encouragement. We went out to the little 9-hole golf course for a morning round. It was hardly surprising that the discussion turned to humility as we all struggled on the course. One priest joked "I ordered humble pie from my waitress so she grabbed a slice and spat in it." What is humble pie? What is humility?

Is humility merely lowliness? Is humility to eat dirt or wear rags? Is that simply holiness?

In a flash of inspiration, I went to St. Thomas Aquinas and the Summa Theologica to look at humility, specifically Question 161 on humility. The Summa can be a bit confusing for novice users, but I think I have a good handle on the Angelic Doctor's views.

  1. Humility is related to Temperance (not like Prohibition). Temperance is the "restraint or suppression of a passion," to eat less, to sleep less, to temper your excitement over Monday Night Football. You can be tempered by external forces (a bad football game) or by internal forces (desire to honor your wife by watching less football and talking more).
  2. Humility is the suppression of "the movement of hope, which is the movement of a spirit aiming at great things." Now why would we suppress hope? Lets flesh that out: humility is when a "man restrain himself from being borne towards that which is above him." Furthermore, humility resides in the cognitive faculty (the brain) in that "we should not deem ourselves to be above what we are."
  3. The inward disposition of humility is then outwardly displayed by signs, words, and deeds.
So is humility simply a matter of eating dirt? Mud pie? Humble Pie? No. Humility is first an inward attitude, tempering your desires, your self-assessment and your goals to at least be in accord with your capabilities. That assessment of your capabilities occurs in relation to earthly superiors (boss, parents, coach, etc.) and your heavenly superior (aka your heavenly Father, His Son, and the Holy Spirit). Ultimately, the Father is the one who supplies the context, the framework for a life of humility.

Jesus lived perfect humility. Walking on water, multiplying loaves and fishes, carpentry work and Good Friday suffering are all in accord with His identity in relation to the Father. The beginnings of humility is the identification of one's strengths and weaknesses and presenting them to the Father through Jesus by the Light of the Spirit. Then we can adjust our desires, our hopes to be in accord with the gifts we have been given.

In example, my desire to shoot par on every hole is not in accord with my gifts as a golfer. When I don't, I would get frustrated, upset, and angry. Now I desire to shoot 2 over par. I am much more at peace now. Golf is good! My desires are in accord with my gifts.

We can deepen our humility by voluntarily making ourselves smaller than our gifts. We can set aside a gift, an accolade, a comfort that we deserve to temper our expectations and self-opinion. Thus we can grow in humility.

So how do we make a humble pie? Simple ingredients, not trying to do too much, acknowledging the good things you have to use. Humble pie.

1 comment:

Adoro te Devote said...

Funny you should talk about humility.

I'm reading that very passage from Aquinas.

Of course, I'm reading it in conjunction with Jordan Aumann, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and St. Frances de Sales with regard to the question:

How is knowledge of God, knowledge of self, and humility related?

Help? I have to answer this question in 3 concise paragraphs or less, I've done most of the reading, and I can't make the connections. Intuitively I can...but I can't WRITE it. I can't even come up with a sentence.