In his Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius Loyola describes the three kinds of humility. I have prayed his Exercises for some 38 years now during annual retreats, but never focused as much upon his great insights into humility as now. Let's review his three kinds:
No. 165 The First Kind of Humility. This is necessary for salvation. It consists in this, that as far as possible I so subject and humble myself as to obey the law of God our Lord in all things, so that not even were I made lord of all creation, or to save my life here on earth, would I consent to violate a commandment, whether divine or human, that binds me under pain of mortal sin.
No. 166 The Second Kind of Humility. This is more perfect than the first. I possess it if my attitude of mind is such that I neither desire nor am I inclined to have riches rather than poverty, to seek honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long life rather than a short life, provided only in either alternative I would promote equally the service of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul. Besides this indifference, this second kind of humility supposes that not for all creation, nor to save my life, would I consent to commit a venial sin.
No. 167. The Third Kind of Humility. This is the most perfect kind of humility. It consists in this. If we suppose the first and second kind attained, then whenever the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty would be equally served, in order to imitate and be in reality more like Christ our Lord, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.
What an extraordinary life-long task and journey! I think most of us do fairly well with the first kind of humility most of the time.
But can I truly say that I don't desire riches over poverty? That I don't desire honor over dishonor? That I don't desire a long life rather than a short one? Ignatius begins the third kind with these words: "If we suppose the first and second kind attained...." In my own life, I certainly cannot suppose those levels of humility "attained."
But we are on a faith journey accompanied by Jesus every step of the way, and it's through prayer and using all our strength that we try to be more humble and more like Him.
The third kind is truly a call to humiliation, more than to humility. With this kind, Ignatius raises the bar considerably. He moves from the verb "desire" in the first two kinds, to "desire and choose" in the third kind. In past years I can't recall myself desiring and choosing:
* poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches;
* insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors;
* worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent.
But through God's grace, I am for the first time realizing that I should be praying for the very things from which I cringe, the disgrace I abhor, the fool that I seem.
Lent is a long period of time, but I am not sure where I will be by Easter on this particular journey embracing and praying for humiliation.
Christ, have mercy!