One day, someone told St. Francis de Sales that they desired to become humble so that they could grow in love. The Saint replied that he preferred to aim at love in order to become humble. Who is correct? Why does this matter?
The answer to the first question, I believe, can be found in the writings of Ven. Louise Margaret, a daughter of St. Francis de Sales (i.e. a Visitandine). Our Lord told her that love and humility grow together; they mutually nourish one another (so, in a sense, both St. Francis de Sales and his interlocutor were correct). Consequently, there can be no true charity without humility, and no true humility without charity. “The more you love Me,” said Our Lord to Madeline Vigneron, “the humbler you are.”
One can verify this doctrine with ease; simply consider that God is Charity and Truth. This, then, is the litmus test of holiness or union with God: charity and humility. A soul might appear charitable and virtuous in the eyes of the world; but if they lack humility, their works are to that extent lacking in supernatural value. It is quite possible to donate generously to charity, serve the homeless, pray for souls, go to Mass, and read spiritual books, when, all the while, one is spiritually dead in mortal sin. Purity of intention is necessary. We will avoid delusion (to a great extent) if we offer our prayers, words and deeds to God, asking that He will act in and through us. He cannot fail to hear and answer such a prayer.
A good sign that we are progressing in the spiritual life is that we often think of God with pleasure. But even more indicative of a great love for God, is a docile will that – feelings aside – says with Our Lady: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
We should always end our prayer with these words: “Thy Will be done.” I purposely capitalised the word “Will,” because God’s Will is not distinct from Himself, and therefore deserves to be adored (bearing in mind that God is the First Cause of all good, and merely permits evil).
Humiliations Help to Uproot Self-Love
It is very easy for self-love to creep into our actions. We think that we are serving God, but the moment something doesn’t go according to plan, we get irritated, or we throw in the towel. Really, we should accept failure as we would success, and suffering as we would joy; both are fruitful, so long as our will is directed towards God, Who works all things to our good.
If we are humble, we won’t be so surprised at our falls, nor will be so inclined to judge others, or to distrust, or to any other evil, all of which stem from the same root: pride.
Because God loves us so much, and wants to lavish His graces on us, He often sends or permits humiliations of various sorts. Remember that sharp word someone addressed to you? God wanted it to be a means of sanctifying you. Remember that time you fell into impatience, despite your best efforts? God wanted you to humble yourself and rely more on Him. Remember that time you couldn’t focus during prayer? God wanted to let you know what you are without Him, and to reward your perseverance and patience.
‘Son, when thou comest to the service of God, stand in justice and in fear, and prepare thy soul for temptation.  Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds.  Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end.  Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience.  For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation.’
– Eccles. 2:1-5
In all difficulties, we must remember that God wants us to be humble. Without humility, there is no union with God, no peace, no happiness, no salvation. By bearing humiliations we give God a precious gift; by acknowledging our misery, rather than rebelling against it, we draw God to us. He seeks only to give.
“My child, the more humble you are, the more love will increase in you.”
– Jesus to St. Veronica Giuliani (August 23, 1715)
“Nothing is more pleasing to Me than to find a soul seeking the humility and meekness of My Heart.”
– Jesus to Mother Marie-Dominique Claire Moes (1832-1895)