Humility is a virtue that inspires us with low sentiments of ourselves; it attributes to us our just due.
Humility makes us realize what we are, according to these words of the Apostle: "What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) Thus it directly opposes pride, which gives us an unjustly exalted notion of our own excellence; yet, in truth, this vice does not indicate any solid good in us, for it is only a swelling that puffs us up and makes us appear in our judgment greater than we really are.
Our Divine Savior teaches us the necessity of this virtue when he tells us, "Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). This terrifying threat applies most especially to those who are in charge of instructing youth.
What are the true characteristics of the Humility proper to our state, considering it as the function of teaching? We will explain this.
1) The Humility of a good teacher must be Christian. Hence he will be faithful to what he owes God and to what he owes his neighbor, not only his superiors but also his equals and his inferiors. Thus a Brother who may be the first among others should carefully refrain from exacting and (on the pretext that he is placed above them) even from tolerating that others should render him any base or lowly services that he can do for himself. If he were to demand such services, he would be acting very contrary to Humility. A good teacher will be humble in mind, knowing full well his own insufficiencies; he will be humble in heart, loving his lowliness; he will be humble in action, behaving humbly in all he does.
No doubt he will never lose sight of the excellence and nobility of the end for which he was created; but at the same time, he will always keep in view the wretched state in which he is as a consequence of the sin of the first man: obscurity in his understanding that even if not total, is still very notable; still greater weakness in his will, powerlessness to do any supernatural good without Gods help. Such is the sad inheritance of human nature as religion teaches us. He does know, of course, that God will never abandon him in his need unless he has first abandoned God. But even when he thinks "that he stands," must he not always fear "lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12)? And consequently, must he not work out his salvation with fear and trembling, without being able to find reassurance except in these beautiful words of the Apostle Saint Peter: "Be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble" (2 Peter 1:1011).
2) Humility is accompanied by modesty. Thus a teacher who possesses this virtue considers himself highly honored to labor for the salvation of souls, following the examples of Jesus Christ and the Apostles in a role that a great number of the saints who have made the Church illustrious by their lights and edified by their virtues have gloried in.
If he is talented, he does not make a display of it; he does not show conceit, pride, or overbearing manners; he avoids attitudes and gestures, airs and ways of acting, that might make him conspicuous in human eyes or might draw attention to the qualities he thinks he possesses. He takes no pleasure in his wit or in the knowledge he may have acquired. With all the more reason, he does not look down on his Brothers or on what they do. He does not seek to be praised for what he does or applauded for his success; he does not attribute to himself the glory that is due only to the One who distributes talents as he sees fit; he refers all such esteem to God alone (1 Timothy 1:17). If he does not always achieve among his students all the good he hoped for, and even if he does no good at all, he blames himself, seeking to know what he did wrong, in order to correct it. After this he remains in peace, submissive to Providence, knowing that it is neither he who plants nor he who waters but God who gives the increase.
3) Humility excludes all vainglory as a motive of acting. Nothing, in fact, is more silly than to desire human esteem; it is, says Pierre de Blois, "a burning wind that dries up the rivulets of grace." Such a desire is, moreover, incompatible with the principles of the Gospel. Jesus Christ said to his disciples, "Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah" (Matthew 23:10). It matters little to be known by men. "But rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).
4) Humility is without ambition. Since a truly humble Brother thinks himself fit for very little, he does not seek a more exalted position or employment. He does not want to teach one class rather than another, but he convinces himself that the class to which he has been assigned by obedience is better for him than any other, will provide him with more means of glorifying God, and will draw down on him more graces to use those means properly and as far as possible.
5) Humility eliminates jealousy. A humble Brother, far from feeling chagrin over the achievements and successes enjoyed by others in the same type of work, on the contrary, will be pleased to see that they equal and even surpass him; that they succeed better than he does in teaching. Thus he will never try to put himself forward as having more merit than another, nor will he allow himself to display coldness toward others who may be ranked above him; in the same way, he will nourish no bitterness toward those who classify him below other Brothers.
6) Humility is not overconfident about its own views. Thus if a Brother truly possesses this virtue, he will conform to the principles established in the Institute regarding teaching; he will not insist on following his own ideas; he will go along with his confrères; he will preserve uniformity of conduct in their regard; he will not make use of any special methods, any extraordinary practices, to teach in his own way, keeping in mind the harm that might be done to the students as a result and the difficulties he might create for the teachers who will come after him. Since he is not rash in what he does, he seeks to reassure himself by relying on the expertise of others; he consults them, willingly accepts their advice, warnings, and instructions; in a word, everything that might help him to do a better job.
7) Humility makes a teacher glad to share his knowledge with the simple. He shows great zeal in evangelizing the poor, in instructing the ignorant, and in teaching children the basics of religion. But if his knowledge is not accompanied by Humility, he will readily turn aside from those areas of teaching that are less highly considered even though they may well be the most useful.
8) The Humility of a good teacher makes him courageous. He does not turn away from whatever may be lowly and uninviting in the schools and in the students. He welcomes them with kindness and mildness; without showing any distaste, he puts up with their natural defects: their rudeness, their ineptitude, the flaws in their character. He patiently bears with their indocility, impoliteness, ingratitude, opposition, and even insults without yielding to resentment or revenge, even when these faults are directed at him personally. Still, he does not forget that he must always repress whatever might weaken his authority and give rise to disorder, insolence, lack of application, or other forms of misconduct on the part of the students.
9) Humility makes a good teacher treat both his equals and his inferiors with esteem, cordiality, friendliness, and kindness.
10) Humility makes a good teacher endure without chagrin the confusion that his mistakes, blunders, and lack of success may draw down on him. The students can only be edified by his example on such occasions and be led to imitate it themselves later on when they find themselves in like circumstances.
11) The Humility of a good teacher makes him charitable, affable, obliging, and easy to approach, especially by the poor and those whom he might find less interesting to deal with. Never does he assume an arrogant, disdainful, or scornful attitude when addressing the students.
12) Finally, besides the defects of which we have been speaking, Humility also condemns in general these that follow: lack of tact, indifference toward others, self-importance, affected and pretentious ways of acting toward Brothers or students; egotism, which leads the teacher to concern himself only with his own person and which is nothing but false humility; this is especially to be condemned in the case when the teacher, fearing to fail, refrains from making all the effort that the glory of God and obedience demand. The good teacher avoids the spirit of independence, which makes him follow none but his own ideas and refuses to be subordinate to anyone in the exercise of his employment. Thus only reluctantly does he show to a visitor, a Director, or an Inspector the marks of common politeness and courtesy due to them, such as asking them to take the teachers chair during class, finding out from them what they would like him to do, accompanying them in order to answer their questions, explaining to them whatever they might wish to know; showing them the students copybooks and receiving their observations and their advice.
A persons pride will
bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23).
In humility regard others as better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3).