The Baptism of the Lord – Lk 3:15-16; 21-22
There’s a theme running through the events in today’s Gospel that we might miss if we only take it at face value; that theme is humility. We see it in two places; first, in John the Baptist, and second, in Christ himself.
With John, he humbly proclaims that one mightier than he is coming, and that he’s not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals. It takes a huge dose of humility to recognize this truth. At this point in his life John would have baptized perhaps hundreds of people; he got so popular and well known that people started questioning whether or not John was the messiah they had been waiting for. But no, he doesn’t take the credit, he’s merely a prophet, a forerunner of the Christ.
Now, with Christ, the humility might be a bit more difficult to recognize in the scripture we heard today. But here is the Son of God, the Messiah, Christ, whose sandals John isn’t even worthy enough to loosen; and He submits himself to baptism by John. This takes humility; for God Himself to be baptized by a man.
St. Augustine says that, “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues; hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist, there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” So, then, all the virtues are dependent on humility.
Humility empties the soul of self-love and vain-glory, and creates there a vast capacity for grace, which God is ready to fill; and as St. Bernard says: “The virtue of humility is always found closely associated with Divine grace.” (See: Spiritual Life: A Treatise by Tanqueray)
St. Augustine, when speaking on humility, says, “Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that shall pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundations on humility.” The loftier the building, the deeper its foundations must be.
Now that we’ve covered the readings, and what humility is; we must look at practical applications; because if all we do is study scripture just for our own edification, it’s rather meaningless. Because when we come into contact with holy scripture, if we don’t amend our lives to conform to the Gospel, to be more like Christ, what good is it?
So then, how does one become humble? There are a few recommendations: (NB: The following is largely borrowed from The Catholic Gentleman.)
- Pray for it, because no virtue can ever be cultivated except by frequent prayer. To help with this, search online for the Litany of Humility and pray it.
- Accept humiliations. Now, be careful with asking for the grace of humility, because we can’t humble ourselves, it’s only through others that we can be humiliated.
“Many souls would like to be humble, but few desire humiliation; many ask God to make them humble and fervently pray for this, but very few want to be humiliated. Yet it is impossible to gain humility without humiliations; for just as studying is the way to acquire knowledge, so it is by the way of humiliation that we attain to humility.”
// Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene
- Obey legitimate superiors.
One of the clearest manifestations of pride is disobedience (ironically, disobedience and rebellion are hailed as virtues in modern Western society). Satan fell through his proud, Non serviam, “I will not serve.”
On the other hand, humility is always manifested by obedience to legitimate authority, whether it be your boss or the government. As St. Benedict says, “The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.”
- Distrust yourself.
Dom Lorenzo Scupoli went so far as to say that, “Distrust of self is so absolutely requisite in the spiritual combat that without this virtue we cannot expect to defeat our weakest passions, much less gain a complete victory.”
- Think better of others than of yourself.
“Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger.”
// Thomas a Kempis
There is no doubt about it: humility is the foundation of the entire spiritual life. Without this virtue, we will never advance in holiness. My brothers and sisters, in the Gospel Christ has shown us the path to holiness through his baptism; we would do well to imitate him in his humility, emptying ourselves of pride so that God can fill us up with his grace and instill in us the virtue we so desperately need.