All Spiritual progress is about a battle between our Godly selves and our ‘earthly’ selves – that is, the ‘original sin’ part of us, warring against the Grace of God which is leading us home. Humility may or may not mean becoming small; what it does mean is recognizing our own frailty, our own utter inability to do anything good without God’s grace – and then accepting the need to ask for that, constantly, if we are to do God's will.
In today’s world mankind has gone mad with arrogance, so that pride is not only common, but officially encouraged – even the climate of the globe has to be the result of mankind’s actions; it can’t possibly be natural, or outside our control. OK, it’s a good thing that mankind is waking up to taking some sort of care of the world; but it would be no bad thing it we could also develop a healthy dose of reality about just how insignificant we are – a thought which is at the centre of Christian humility, and which S. Philip Neri was very keen to encourage in his followers.
In the context of eternity, all human intentions are ‘fleeting sentiments’ – ‘Vanity, vanity, cries the Preacher; all is Vanity’ : as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be – such is the pattern of human endeavour. If we could really pray the ‘Our Father’, we might get there . . . . ‘give us this day our daily bread’ – in other words, stop worrying about tomorrow, about things over which, in reality, we have no control, and simply take God’s love for today. Think, too, of the ‘Hail Mary’ – ‘now, and at the hour of our death’ : as fr Timothy Radcliffe says, it encompasses the only three moments of which we can be certain – that we were born, that we must die, and now – the only other moment of which we can be certain; a fact which (for many, at least) belittles, rather than empowers, us.
So few days after Haiti, with so much of the island still a scene of utter devastation, and yet we seem to have lost sight already how utterly insignificant man is compared with nature in this world . . . and then we look through even a small telescope, and realize that this world is but a minute part of the Universe . . . and who knows whether there are other universes out there ?
There are all sorts of ways this modern compulsion to intense spiritual pride manifests itself : but when you look closely, so much of it is about the ‘me, me, me’ attitude, and a rejection of spiritual self-discipline – the determination to make choices for ourselves, (even pointless ones) and to insist upon an individuality which is frequently as futile as it is fugitive. In reality, we ultimately have to come to accept that we are nothing without God : can do nothing without Him, and indeed have nothing save what He gives us - and certainly not individuality. The only thing which we can give Him which he has not already given us directly is our love; and and to give Him our love fully and effectively means giving Him our will, so that we may do His.
S. Philip believed firmly that regular recourse to a good Spiritual Director was a fundamental element of sanctification; because he believed that obedience to a Spiritual Director was a crucial element in achieving humility; the surrender of our own will to God's.
He also said that ‘It is well to choose one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it’; pointing out that the humility involved in accepting the discipline of not chopping and changing all the time, but rather adhering to a fixed and regular pattern, was itself a precious stepping-stone on the path to holiness : though he did, of course, also point out that ‘the good works which we do of our own will are not so meritorious as those which are done under obedience’, so that even our choice of devotion, and our practice of it, should to gain its maximum effect be done under obedience to a Spiritual Director.
Sometimes we have to do violence to our own inclinations if we want to grow in holiness, and love, and closeness to God; but such violence done alone, and without guidance, may well do more harm than good. God give us grace to recognize that accepting the discipline of obedience to our Spiritual Director, or even just to a Rule of Life agreed with a holy priest, is a major step in the humility which will, God willing, bring us at last to heaven.