Light and Life – Jan-Feb 2019, Vol 72, No 1 – A Publication of the Western Dominican Province
[Br. Columban Mary Hall, OP is a student brother of the Western Dominican Province in simple vows. He currently is on his residency year at Holy Family Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska.]
Humility is a virtue we instinctively associate with the Blessed Virgin, who twice refers to herself as the “handmaid” of the Lord (Lk. 1: 38 and 48). Both occasions, the Annunciation and the Visitation to St. Elizabeth, are remembered in the Rosary, and provide wonderful opportunities for meditating on the humility of the Blessed Virgin.
What would Mary herself say about humility? Her Magnificat says it all. Though some have seen in the Magnificat Mary’s pronouncement of her own greatness (“henceforth, all generations will call me blessed”), it is principally about the greatness of God, our sovereign good and final goal.
St. Thomas writes that humility is a virtue that helps us properly order ourselves to the difficult good, tempering and restraining the mind against presumption or overconfidence. Its counterpart is magnanimity, a part of fortitude which prevents us from despairing of the difficult good. Both of these are shown in Mary’s Magnificat: recognizing that she has everything from God, Mary magnifies Him and lays claim to her role and responsibility as mother of the Messiah. Assured of God’s grace, she puts her faith in Him; hence Elizabeth calls her blessed for believing.
I think Mary would say that putting ourselves down is not humility, neither is discounting the gifts, talents, and blessings God has given us. We never see her do this. On the other hand, the humble do not admire themselves, nor seek to be admired, despite the gifts they acknowledge. They put them at the service of God and neighbor. When the angel called her “full of grace,” Mary was troubled, and did not understand “what sort of greeting this was” (Lk. 1: 28-29). I cannot think the immaculate Virgin was ever under the illusion she had sinned, yet that does not mean she guessed the profundity of her own holiness or thought much of herself. She thought of God and blessed God. She did not tarry to congratulate herself on being chosen, she rose in haste to visit Elizabeth.
Mary would tell us that, acknowledging their nothingness before God, the humble do not cease to strive for great things; but they strive for them with confidence in God, asking them from God, as things ordered to God, hidden in God. It is not earthly greatness or outward exaltation for which they strive, for these hinder the desire for heavenly things. The humble strive for more: nothing less than God Himself, that their souls may magnify Him. May the Rosary be for us a school of humility, a means of glorifying God, and a catalyst of charity.