The First Step (and Every Step Thereafter) is Humility
Saint Augustine once wrote to Dioscorus that there is only one way for human beings to reach fulfillment: “In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility (prima humilitas; secunda, humilitas; tertia, humilitas): and this I will continue to repeat as often as you might ask for direction, not because there are no other instructions that could be given, but because, unless humility precede, accompany, and follow every good action that we perform, being at once the object that we keep before our eyes, the support to which we cling, and the bridle by which we are restrained, pride will seize from our hand any good work for which we might feel good about ourselves” (Letter 118.22, PL 32.432). The great value of humility has long been known within traditional Christianity. With such a goal, such a guide, and such a support, the Christian can do things that are truly wonderful to the glory of God in a way that is whole, wholesome, and that abides forever.
Today, psychologists are coming to make the same discovery about humility. Research has shown that people who are humble are more likely to forgive, because they see their own shortcomings in the shortcomings of others. And forgiveness has long been correlated with better health. Other studies on psychology and religion indicate that humility is associated with a sense of God’s forgiveness. Taken together God’s forgiveness and a readiness to forgive others can enable people to form closer relationships with others, another correlate to good mental health. So even on a primarily worldly plane, humility allows us to forgive and to be forgiven. Through humility we can form genuine relationships and come to understand healthy boundaries. Humility is the key to a healthy person, because the problem is rooted in pride, which manifests itself in a deep-seated egocentricity in which the adult behaves like a child or reacts like a beast.
The acquisition of humility is accompanied by an abiding remembrance of the Holy, Eternal, All-Good, and Loving God and the proper relationship between the perfect Creator and the at times so imperfect creature. Remembrance of God provides us with an immanent sense of transcendence in the human heart, shining as star to guide the wise. Remembrance of God also initiates us into the important truth that the self is not really the center of the universe. That it couldn’t be and moreover shouldn’t be. This notion is particularly helpful in dealing with the stream of thoughts and the passions that sorely afflict us. In Ancient Christian Wisdom, it is noted that, “psychologists accept the human need for pleasure as natural and relate it to being loved and accepted, whereas the fathers not only refuse to make sensual pleasure a basic value, but also consider it to be a consequence of the fall, a potential danger in a fallen world, and a slippery path leading to the forgetfulness of God.” Thus, begins a vicious cycle of pleasure seeking that only leads to dysfunction and enslavement to the passions.
Remembrance of God, on the other hand, provides freedom from transitory pleasure seeking and egocentric behavior. True freedom can only be found in the humble remembrance of God, which allows no room for the destructive behavioral patterns that typify the passions. Passions are so very blameworthy, because they disfigure the creature made in the image of the Creator.
The children of God are considered glorious because they have acquired the freedom God intended them to have. They have no fear because they are rooted firmly in the remembrance of a God who loves them and offers them eternal bliss. Such are the joys of humility.