The relationship between Humility and Obedience

January 31, 2022 • 3 min

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 154
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley

9. The Saint next gives a rare lesson on the measure or means of gauging humility. Obedience is to be its source and touch-stone.

This teaching he grounded on the saying of St. Paul: that our Lord humbled Himself, making Himself obedient. [Philipp. ii. 8.]

He would say:

Do you see by what scale humility must be measured? By obedience. If you obey promptly, frankly, cheerfully, without murmuring, expostulating, or replying, you are truly humble.

Nor without humility can one be easily and really obedient, for obedience demands submission of the heart, and only the truly humble look upon themselves as inferior to all and as subject to every creature for the love of Jesus Christ. They ever regard their fellow-men as their superiors, they consider themselves to be the scorn of men and the off-scouring of the world.

Thus these two virtues, like two pieces of iron, by friction one with the other, enhance each other’s brightness and polish. We are humble only in as far as we are obedient, and in fine we are pleasing to God only in as far as we have charity.

10. He recommended all to endeavour to steep their every action in the spirit of humility, as the swan steeps in water each morsel she swallows, and how can this be done except by hiding our good works as much as we can from the eyes of men, and by desiring that they may be seen only by Him to Whom all things are open, and from Whom nothing can be hid [Heb. 4:13].

Our Saint himself, urged by this spirit, said that he would have wished, had there been any goodness in him, that it might have been hidden from himself as well as from all others until the Judgment Day, when the secrets of all hearts will be revealed. The Gospel itself exhorts us to observe this secrecy, for it warns us to serve God in secret, and by hiding our virtues, our prayers, our almsgiving, fittingly to worship Him, Who is a hidden God.

11. Blessed Francis did not, however, desire that we Should put ourselves to the constraint and discomfort of avoiding good actions simply because of their being praiseworthy in the eyes of others. What he approved of was a noble, generous, courageous humility, not that which is mean, timid, and cowardly.

True, he would not that anything should be done for so low a motive as to win the praise of men, but at the same time he would not have an undertaking abandoned for fear of its success being appreciated and applauded. “It is only very weak heads,” he said, “that are made to ache by the scent of roses.”

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