Choosing Humility

Brother Charles of Jesus

There are a lot of mistakes that we make while trying to do the right thing. A lot of the time this is because we see part of the picture and cling frantically to it, while the other part of the picture passes us by. I’m like this. I also have a sneaking suspicion that my friend in heaven Blessed Charles of Jesus (whose feast day it is today) was like this.

Blessed Charles’ life divides roughly in two: the first half, where he wants humility by denying himself lots of stuff, to the point of withdrawal from society, and (roughly speaking) seeing Jesus as the most poor person who ever lived, wants to imitate that; the second half, where he goes out towards people, taking Jesus to them and wanting only to be their brother, not their teacher or catechist.

The thing about denying himself things, to the point of being scandalized that a papal permission allowed the Trappists slightly more butter with their austere diet, is that it’s prideful.

The thing about when he took Jesus to them, is that, he discovered that he was often receiving.

The thing about being “only” someone’s brother is that it’s impossible. If we love with God’s love, we love with God’s own infinite love. It has it all in one love: brother, father, mother, teacher, spouse… all in one. What happens is that the emphases vary. But there’s no such thing as “only” a brother in supernatural love. A little bit of instruction will have to creep in. A little bit of childlikeness. A little bit of even divine spousal love, insofar as both persons are rooted in God alone. It’s all mixed and condensed into the one finite Love who is God.

I have to admit. I fell for all the tropes that Blessed Charles did, and certainly more. Choosing my own humility in terms of strong mortification? Check. Wanting only to give Jesus and not thinking about receiving? Check. Wanting only to give brotherly love, not any other love also? Check. I’ve done it all in spades.

But really, we should have known – and Brother Charles should have known – that we can’t choose our own mortification and our own paths of humility. If we choose, our will is choosing. There may be some humility in it. But it can’t be absolute. As an illustration of Saint Francis de Sales’ maxim “ask for nothing and refuse nothing”, Saint Jane de Chantal says,

I admit that God wants you to be most humble, but in the ways He chooses for you, not in those you would choose.

That’s much better. When Charles (and I) realized that austerity is not such an important virtue, that was letting God choose a way of humility.  When Charles (and I) realized that he didn’t always have to give to others, but also receive, that was letting God choose a way of humility. And when Charles (and I) realized that other loves have a part, though perhaps one dominates for a given relationship, that was letting God choose a way of humility. And God’s choices are certainly better.


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