Humility is essential for growth in prayer
April 18, 2019
Perhaps you have been praying daily for some time now and you want to know how to keep growing closer to God. How can your meditation on Scripture begin to mature? The Carmelite saints note four things that are necessary for growth in prayer: perseverance, growth in love of neighbor, humility and detachment. Today I want to talk about humility.
For St. Teresa of Avila, prayer and virtue grow or stagnate together. You can’t grow in prayer if you are unwilling to tackle your sinfulness. Nor can you grow in virtue if you seldom spend time with God. While each person has different vices to conquer, pride is universal. It is also the most dangerous sin. Pride turned Lucifer into Satan and caused Adam’s fall. A proud person is too full of himself to have much room for God. Ignorant of his neediness, he doesn’t seek God. He does not place his trust in God. A proud person fails in both prayer and virtue, and may not even realize it! This is why humility has been called “the mother of the virtues.”
What is humility? It is not talking badly about yourself or ignoring your gifts. Rather, humility recognizes that God is the source of our gifts, whether they are natural or supernatural. St. Teresa said simply, “Humility is truth.”
How does one overcome pride? To a certain extent, pride is a young person’s vice. Experience shows us our weakness. I have found having kids to be especially revealing of my spiritual state. It was a lot easier to believe in my superficial virtue in my single years, when I was living to please myself, than it was being a mother of young children. I imagine priests and religious have similar eye-opening moments in their vocations. But we certainly can and should work toward greater humility at any age.
Prayer is the key. We should continually pray to be freed from pride, to have God show us our weaknesses. Praying the Litany of Humility regularly can be astonishingly eye-opening. Focusing on God and his character during mental prayer is also important. Prayer, like the rest of life, is not “all about me.” We shouldn’t neglect to voice our needs, sorrows and frustrations, but neither should we fixate on them. Meditating on the Gospels teaches us about the character of Jesus. As we come to know him, we realize how far short our love for him falls, and how desperately we need his grace to imitate him. But we should always turn our eyes back to him, lest we despair.
Pride keeps us distant from God. If we cannot acknowledge our need for God, we will put little effort into our relationship with him. If we see ourselves as already holy, we will not pursue union with him. As we mature in prayer, our job becomes more and more a matter of surrender to God’s action. We must trust that his ways are better than ours and expect his ways to be beyond our understanding.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church asks, “When we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. ‘Man is a beggar before God’” (no. 2559).
Are you willing to become a beggar to grow closer to him?
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of “The Contemplative Rosary” just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.