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Introduction to the Devout Life
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CHAPTER VI. Humility makes us rejoice in our own Abjection.

BUT, my daughter, I am going a step further, and I bid you everywhere and in everything to rejoice in your own abjection. Perhaps you will ask in reply what I mean by that. In Latin abjection means humility, and humility means abjection, so that when Our Lady says in the Magnificat that all generations shall call her blessed, because God hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden, 7171    S. Luke i. 48. she means that He has accepted her abjection and lowliness in order to fill her with graces and favours. Nevertheless, there is a difference between humility and abjection; for abjection is the poverty, vileness and littleness which exist in us, without our taking heed to them; but humility implies a real knowledge and voluntary recognition of that abjection. And the highest point of humility consists in not merely acknowledging one’s abjection, but in taking pleasure therein, not from any want of breadth or courage, but to give the more glory to God’s Divine Majesty, and to esteem one’s neighbour more highly than one’s self. This is what I would have you do; and to explain myself more clearly, let me tell you that the trials which afflict us are sometimes abject, sometimes honourable. NOW many people will accept the latter, but very few are willing to accept the former. Everybody respects and pities a pious hermit shivering in his worn-out garb; but let a poor gentleman or lady be in like case, and they are despised for it,—and so their poverty is abject. A religious receives a sharp rebuke from his superior meekly, or a child from his parent, and every one will call it obedience, mortification, wisdom; but let a knight or a lady accept the like from some one, albeit for the Love of God, and they will forthwith be accused of cowardice. This again is abject suffering. One person has a cancer in the arm, another in the face; the former only has the pain to bear, but the latter has also to endure all the disgust and repulsion caused by his disease; and this is abjection. And what I want to teach you is, that we should not merely rejoice in our trouble, which we do by means of patience, but we should also cherish the abjection, which is done by means of humility. Again, there are abject and honourable virtues; for the world generally despises patience, gentleness, simplicity, and even humility itself, while, on the contrary, it highly esteems prudence, valour, and liberality. Sometimes even there may be a like distinction drawn between acts of one and the same virtue—one being despised and the other respected. Thus almsgiving and forgiveness of injuries are both acts of charity, but while every one esteems the first, the world looks down upon the last. A young man or a girl who refuses to join in the excesses of dress, amusement, or gossip of their circle, is laughed at and criticised, and their self-restraint is called affectation or bigotry. Well, to rejoice in that is to rejoice in abjection. Or, to take another shape of the same thing. We are employed in visiting the sick—if I am sent to the most wretched cases, it is an abjection in the world’s sight, and consequently I like it. If I am sent to those of a better class, it is an interior abjection, for there is less grace and merit in the work, and so I can accept that abjection. If one has a fall in the street, there is the ridiculous part of it to be borne, as well as the possible pain; and this is an abjection we must accept. There are even some faults, in which there is no harm beyond their abjection, and although humility does not require us to commit them intentionally, it does require of us not to be disturbed at having committed them. I mean certain foolish acts, incivilities, and inadvertencies, which we ought to avoid as far as may be out of civility and decorum, but of which, if accidentally committed, we ought to accept the abjection heartily, out of humility. To go further still,—if in anger or excitement I have been led to use unseemly words, offending God and my neighbour thereby, I will repent heartily, and be very grieved for the offence, which I must try to repair to the utmost; but meanwhile I will accept the abjection and disgrace which will ensue, and were it possible to separate the two things, I ought earnestly to reject the sin, while I retained the abjection readily.

But while we rejoice in the abjection, we must nevertheless use all due and lawful means to remedy the evil whence it springs, especially when that evil is serious. Thus, if I have an abject disease in my face, I should endeavour to get it cured, although I do not wish to obliterate the abjection it has caused me. If I have done something awkward which hurts no one, I will not make excuses, because, although it was a failing, my own abjection is the only result; but if I have given offence or scandal through my carelessness or folly, I am bound to try and remedy it by a sincere apology. There are occasions when charity requires us not to acquiesce in abjection, but in such a case one ought the more to take it inwardly to heart for one’s private edification.

Perhaps you will ask what are the most profitable forms of abjection. Unquestionably, those most helpful to our own souls, and most acceptable to God, are such as come accidentally, or in the natural course of events, because we have not chosen them ourselves, but simply accepted God’s choice, which is always to be preferred to ours. But if we are constrained to choose, the greatest abjections are best; and the greatest is whatever is most contrary to one’s individual inclination, so long as it is in conformity with one’s vocation; for of a truth our self-will and self-pleasing mars many graces. Who can teach any of us truly to say with David, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of ungodliness”? 7272    Ps. lxxxiv. 10. None, dear child, save He Who lived and died the scorn of men, and the outcast of the people, in order that we might be raised up. I have said things here which must seem very hard to contemplate, but, believe me, they will become sweet as honey when you try to put them in practice.


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