“Whoever Exalts Himself . . .”

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin

In one of his daily homilies at Casa Santa Marta, Pope Francis said that “There is no humility without humiliation. If you are not able to put up with some humiliations in your life, you are not humble.”

Humiliation? Been there, done that.

Years ago, when I was a young priest, I used to play racquetball. I played a lot and was pretty good – I thought. One day a priest friend of mine, a racquetball partner, said that he had a friend, a young woman, who really wanted to play racquetball with me. “Of course,” I said. “That would be fun and I’ll take it easy on her.”

It was a setup. What I didn’t know, and what my priest “friend” failed to mention was that this young lady was the State Womens Racquetball Champion. I didn’t stand a chance. Her serve was unreturnable and in two games I scored one measly point I think, probably because she let me. And, predictably, my priest friend showed up with a camera to record the sad spectacle.

“No humility without humiliation,” the Pope said. That day I grew in humility.

The fact is, humiliation can steamroll us in different ways, but if accepted with honesty and grace, it is good for the soul. We can be humiliated by the shameful admission of our own sins; by our embarrassing public failures; by the recognition that we’re not in control of all the circumstances of our lives; by the realization that something we firmly believed to be true turned out to be false; by the betrayal of once good friends; and by some silly, embarrassing deeds from the past, the memory of which makes us blush even today.

Many saints experienced humiliation and it helped them to grow in patience and holiness. “It is the humble man whom God protects and liberates; it is the humble whom he loves and consoles. For after their humiliation, God will raise them up to glory,” Thomas á Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ.

Of course our ultimate role model in humiliation is Jesus. He was betrayed, falsely accused, scourged, mocked, spat upon, crucified between criminals, and buried in a borrowed grave. But because of this humiliation, God exalted him and he became the source of salvation for the world.

Something to think about: Have you had moments of humiliation in your life? How did you handle it?