One of my professors this afternoon spoke about humility, reflecting on the Sunday Mass readings we’ve had recently (esp. Sir 3:17-18,20,28-9 and Luke 14:1, 7-14). I admire this professor very much, and I always look forward to his comments with great interest. He is truly one of the most humble men I know, while at the same time many in the world — ignorant of his nature– judge him proud; this made his comments even more touching.

During the course of his thoughts, I was reminded of a priest’s comment to me a few months back. He insinuated that the sin of pride was often the result of a lack of self-esteem. While it first struck me as contradictory, I soon thought I understood what he meant — that people who are self-conscious of themselves end up telling themselves they are better than the people around them, to make themselves feel better. This may be what he was talking about, but I came to deeper insight about his comment — and I have to wonder if this was what he meant all along.

Humility is a hard virtue. It’s that virtue that is only attained when we don’t realize it is attained. Once we think we’ve mastered it — BAM! — it’s out the window, and we have to start from scratch again. It’s probably the most frustrating battle on our spiritual journey. The professor I spoke of above told us that a student of his used to tease the professor’s kids with the following quip on humility — “I won the humility award in grade school. But they took it away from me when I started wearing it.”

True humility comes from our acceptance of our limitations. Even more than that, I think it comes from our realization of who we are. We are creatures, made in the image of God. This is humbling in many respects. First, we are simply creatures — we are not the gods we so often seem to think ourselves to be. We are not the masters of the world around us. We are not even masters of our own lives. How often does something go against our plans — and we have to simply throw up our hands and realize there is nothing we can do about it? How often do we find ourselves incapable of finishing every task we penciled in for the day? How often are we forced to stare at something beyond our control — whether a dehabilitating disease, a natural disaster, or simply another person’s whim?

Yes, we are creatures. And this is humbling. But we are also made in the image of God. This too is humbling… that God has loved us so much, He chose to give us an intellect and free will so that we could choose to return that love. Our response was to reject that love, so He gave us His Son, Who took flesh and came to earth in the form of a servant, to save us from the consequences of our rejection. He gave us His very flesh and promised us that He would be with us until the end of time, making Himself vulnerable under the lowly appearance of bread and wine. And our response is to further reject Him, to pridefully continue through our lives of sin, receiving His Flesh and Blood without gratitude or in ignorance.

Yes, we have low self-esteems. It’s not that we don’t think highly of ourselves. Instead, we don’t realize who we truly are. We don’t realize that we have the ability to daily receive our Savior and become gods ourselves (see CCC 460). If we realized who we were, unworthy beneficiaries of the greatest gift imaginable, divine sonship, all pride would vanish.