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Humility, says St. Bernard, is the foundation and guardian of the virtues ; and with reason, for without humility a soul can possess no other virtue. Let her possess all the virtues, they will all depart when humility departs. On the other hand, said St. Francis of Sales, in a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, God so loves humility that he instantly hastens to the soul in which he sees it. This virtue, so lovely and so necessary, was unknown in the world; but the Son of God himself came on earth to teach it by his example, and he desired that in this we should especially strive to imitate him: "Learn of me, because I am meek and humble of heart." And Mary, as she was the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus Christ in all the virtues, was so in that of humility, by which she merited to be exalted above all creatures. It was revealed to St. Matilda that the first virtue which the blessed mother especially practised from child hood, was humility.
The first act of humility of heart is to have an humble opinion of ourselves; and Mary always thought so lowly of herself, as was revealed to the same St. Matilda, that although she saw so many more graces bestowed upon her than upon others, she preferred all others before herself. Rupert the Abbot, explaining that passage, "Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse .... with one hair of thy neck," says, that this hair of the neck of the spouse was precisely that humble opinion which Mary had of herself, with which she wounded the heart of God. Not that the holy Virgin esteemed her self a sinner, for humility is truth, as St. Theresa says, and Mary knew that she had never offended God; nor that she did not confess having received greater graces from God than any other creature, for an humble heart always acknowledges the special favors of the Lord, that it may humble itself the more; but the divine mother, by the greater light she had to see the infinite greatness and goodness of her God, saw still more her own littleness, and therefore more than all others did she humiliate herself, and say with the spouse of the Canticles: "Do not consider that I am brown because the sun hath altered my color." Approaching him, I find myself black, as St. Bernard explains it: "Appropinquans illi me nigrarn invenio." Yes, adds St. Bernardine, for the Virgin had always present before her eyes the divine majesty, and her own nothiiigness. As a beggar, when she is clothed with a costly garment which has been given her, is not made proud by it, but humbles herself more before the giver, because she is reminded then more of her poverty; thus, Mary, the more she saw herself enriched, the more humble she became, remembering that all was the gift of God; whence she herself said to St. Elizabeth, a Benedictine nun: "Know for certain that I esteemed myself most abject, and unworthy of the grace of God." And therefore, says St. Bernardine, no creature in the world has been more exalted, because no creature has ever humbled herself more than Mary.
Moreover, it is an act of humility to conceal the gifts of heaven. Mary wished to conceal from St. Joseph the grace of having been made the mother of God, although it seemed necessary to make it known to him, in order, at least, to re move from the mind of her poor spouse the suspicions he might have of her virtue, when he saw her pregnant; or at least his perplexity, for in fact St. Joseph, on the one side, unwilling to doubt the chastity of Mary, and, on the other, ignorant of the mystery, in order to free himself from perplexity, was minded to put her away privately: "Voluit occulte dimittere eam." And if the angel had not revealed to him that his spouse was pregnant by the operation of the Holy Spirit, he would really have left her. Moreover, an humble soul also refuses praise, and gives it all to God. Behold, Mary is disturbed at hearing herself praised by St. Gabriel And when St. Elizabeth said to her, "Blessed art thou among women . . . and whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me . . . .Blessed art thou that hast believed," Mary, referring all these praises to God, answered with that humble Canticle: My soul doth magnify the Lord: "Magnificat anima mea Dorainum," as if she had said: You praise me, oh Elizabeth, but I praise the Lord, to whom alone honor is due; you wonder that I come to you, and I wonder at the divine goodness in. which alone my spirit exults. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour: "Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo." You praise me because I have believed; I praise my God, because he has wished to exalt my nothingness; because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid: "Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae." Hence Mary said to St. Bridget: "Why did I humble myself so far, or why have I mer ited so much grace, unless because I thought and knew that of and from myself I was nothing, and had nothing? therefore I would have no praise for myself, but only for the Giver and Creator." Wherefore, speaking of the humility of Mary, St. Augustine says: Oh truly blessed humility, which has brought forth God to men, opened paradise, and liberated souls from hell
It is also a part of humility to save others; and Mary did not refuse to go and serve Elizabeth for three months. Wherefore St. Bernard has said: Elizabeth wondered that Mary should come to visit her, but she should wonder still more that she did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister. The humble retire and choose the lowest place; and therefore, as St. Bernard remarks, Mary, when her Son was preaching in a certain house, as St. Matthew relates, wished to speak with him, but would not enter the house unbidden. Therefore, when she was in the "upper room" with the apostles, she wished to take the lowest place, as St. Luke has related: "All these were persevering with one mind in prayer, with the woman and Mary the mother of Jesus." Not that St. Luke did not know the merit of the divine mother, on account of which he should have given her the first place; but because she had taken the lowest, after the apostles and the other women, therefore St. Luke described all, as a certain author remarks, just in the order of their places. Hence St Bernard says: Justly has the last become first, who, when she was first of all, became last. Finally, the humble love contempt; therefore we do not find that Mary appeared in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when her Son was received with so much honor by the people; but, on the other hand, at the time of the death of her Son, she did not shrink from appearing in public on Calvary, through fear of the disgrace of being known as the mother of one who was condemned as a criminal to die by an infamous death. Therefore she said to St Bridget: "What more contemptible than to be called a fool, to be in want of all things, to believe one's self the most unworthy of all? Such, oh daughter, was my humility, this was my joy, this my entire will, with which I thought of nothing but to please my Son."
The venerable sister Paula of Foligno was given to understand in an ecstasy how great was the humility of the holy Virgin. In relating what she had seen to her confessor, she said, scarcely able to utter the words through astonishment: "Oh the humility of the blessed Virgin! Oh father! oh the humility of our blessed Lady! In the world there is no humility, not even the lowest degree of humility, to be compared with the humility of Mary." And our Lord, at another time, showed St. Bridget two females, one all pomp and vanity: This one," he said, "is Pride; the other whom you see with her head bent down, respectful- to all, having God alone in her mind, and having no esteem for her self, is Humility, arid is called Mary." By this God wished to make known to us that his blessed mother was so humble that she was humility itself.
It is not to be doubted, as St. Gregory of Nyssa says, that for our nature, corrupted by sin, there is perhaps no virtue more difficult to practise than humility. But there is no escape ; we can never be true children of Mary if we are not humble. If, says St. Bernard, you cnmiot imitate the virginity, imitate the humility of the humble Virgin. She abhors the proud, she invites none to come to her but the humble : Whosoever is a little one, let him come to me : " Si quis est parvulus, veniat ad me." Mary, says Richard, protects us under the mantle of humility : " Maria protegit nos sub pallio humilitatis." The mother of God herself explained this to St. Bridget, saying : "Come, then, oh my daughters, and hide thyself under my mantle; this mantle is my humility." And she then added, that the contemplation of her humility was a good mantle that keeps us warm ; but, as she afterwards said: "The mantle only warms him who wears it, not only in thought but in fact ; thus my humility does not profit unless every one strives to imitate it. Therefore, my daughter," she concludes, "clothe thyself with this humility." Oh, how dear to Mary is the humble soul! St. Bernard writes: TheVirgin recognizes and loves those who love her, and she is near to all who invoke her, especially to those whom she sees like herself in chastity and humility, Wherefore the saint the exhorts all those who love Mary, to be humble : Emulate this virtue if you love Mary. Marino, or Martino d Alberto, of the Society of Jesus, through love of the Virgin, was accustomed to sweep the house and collect the filth. The divine mother once appeared to him, as Father Nierembergh relates in his Life, and as if thanking him, said : "How dear to me is this humble action done for love of me !" Then, oh my queen, I shall never be a true child of thine, if I am not humble. But do you not see that my sins, after having rendered me ungrateful to my Lord, have also made me proud ? Oh, my mother, cure me; by thy merits obtain for me that I may be humble, and thus become a child of thine. Amen.