The Seven Tests of Humility
Fr. Joseph K. Horn
7 July 1996
St Barbara’s Parish
Santa Ana, CA
You know how the doctor sometimes says, “This won’t hurt at all,” and then does something that hurts? I really hate it when they say, “This might hurt a little,” because then you know it’s definitely going to hurt. The worst thing I ever heard a doctor say was when I broke my leg ten years ago, and the doctor in the emergency room took hold of my leg to jerk the bones back into their somewhat proper location, and he looked me right in the eye and said, “This is really going to hurt.”
Well, my friends, I thought about giving a sermon today that wasn’t going to hurt at all. It was too boring, so I rewrote it to hurt just a little. When it was done, I realized that I’d better warn you: This is really going to hurt. Sorry; no anesthetics are available.
There are seven common situations that test a person’s humility, and reveal clearly whether they are proud or humble. As you listen to each of these seven tests, let it rip open your soul, if need be, and decide what needs to be operated on.
Test #1: What do you do when somebody wrongs you? Do you anger easily? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that we are little gods who should never be inconvenienced. When somebody wrongs us, it hurts our pride, and rather than being humbled by the experience, we get angry, like little Zeuses throwing little lightning bolt temper tantrums. Or do you take it in stride, remaining cool, calm and collected, rolling with the punches and remaining strong enough to take a few knocks? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that we are all sinners, and that we’re no better than anybody else.
Test #2: When was the last time you consciously decided to forgive somebody for some wrong they did to you? Was it long ago? Do you only rarely forgive others? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that people have no excuse for hurting us, that they did so on purpose, that they are lower than sewer sludge, and that they deserve our wrath and scorn. Or do you remember being recently wronged, and immediately forgiving them? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that they probably didn’t know what they were doing, that they have their own daily struggle just like we do, and that while to err is human, to forgive is divine.
Test #3: What do you do after realizing that you’ve sinned? Do you pretend it never happened? Do you say that it’s not really your fault? Do you plead extenuating circumstances? Do you blame someone else? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that we are too wonderful and excellent and awesome and perfect to really sin, so there must be some other explanation. Since we do not believe that we really sinned, we feel no guilt. Since we feel no guilt, we do not ask for forgiveness. Since we do not ask for forgiveness, we are not forgiven, and we continue to sink deeper and deeper into the quicksand, all the while saying, “Quicksand? What quicksand? I don’t see any quicksand!” Or do we tell God, “I have sinned; please forgive me”? That’s humility. Humility reminds us to face the facts, admit our sin, and beg forgiveness. We offer no excuses. We don’t blame the situation on other people. We know that we are sinners, but we humbly trust that our sins will be washed away in the blood of the Lamb.
Test #4: How often do you ask God for favors in prayer? Rarely? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that the greatest people are the self-made billionaires, and that since we are great too, we must in some way be self-made and self-reliant, needing nobody else, never needing to ask anybody for any favors, including God. Or do you find yourself occasionally asking God for help? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that everything we have is from God, that even our bodies and talents are on loan from God, that we are in need of salvation and that Jesus is our Savior.
Test #5: Are you easily annoyed by other people? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that it is we who define “normal”, so that anybody who behaves differently from our esteemed selves is behaving abnormally, probably on purpose, just to annoy us. Or do you enjoy the presence of other people, and interact easily with them? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that everybody is different, that each person has a unique role in God’s plan, and is therefore given different tastes, desires, abilities, and opportunities. The humble man sees God’s will in this diversity, and rejoices in it.
Test #6: Do you find it difficult to submit your will to another person? Do you only watch the TV shows and movies that you want to watch? Do you only eat what you want to eat? Do you complain when your children, parents, or boss ask you to do something above and beyond the call of duty? Do you refuse to do things because they are beneath your dignity? Or do you do them, but bellyache about it to everybody, as if you were being exploited or martyred? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that we have the right to do anything we want to do, and to avoid doing anything we don’t want to do. It was pride that made Lucifer say, “Non serviam! I will not serve!” Or do you gladly accept God’s will for you, as expressed by those who have legitimate authority over you or a claim to your time? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that God is in charge. He knows what he’s doing, and so we can trust Him completely. Every task we are given is a task that must be done by somebody. The humble soul says, “Here I am Lord; send me,” and then works patiently and gladly. It was humility that made Mary say, “Let it be done to me according to thy will.”
Test #7: When you experience success or good fortune, do you boast about it? That’s pride. Pride lies to us, telling us that success is always due to our own hard work, superior intelligence, brilliant imagination, keen sense of timing, and the simple and obvious fact that we’re just destined to be successful. It also tells us that good fortune isn’t a gift; no, it’s really a karmic thing; it’s the universe paying off its debt of gratitude in appreciation for our magnificence; it’s evidence that God himself is a member of our fan club. So we feel justified in bragging. Or do you take success in stride, remaining as cool, calm and collected in good fortune as in bad? That’s humility. Humility reminds us that when it rains or shines it does so on both the just and the unjust. Success is always caused by many factors, some of which we have no control over, and good fortune is a pure grace from God, undeserved and nonrepayable. We thank God on our knees for such gifts, but we don’t boast about them.
There you have it: the seven tests of humility. I hope I didn’t cause you too much pain by reading these to you. I like to imagine that the way souls get out of Purgatory is by passing a written exam full of questions like these, and as St. Peter passes out the exams, he says, “Don’t worry; this won’t hurt at all.”