Humility more than ability

July 31, 2022 in Niall's Notes


Today [31st of July] is the Feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is a special day for us Jesuits —all over the world we are celebrating the founder of our order, the Society of Jesus. I hope it is a special day for you too! For this month’s email I want to focus on one particular aspect of holiness which was especially important for Ignatius—the virtue of humility.

St. Ignatius was a holy man and he also wanted to help others along the path of holiness. The path is often thought of as an upward journey—the raising up of our hearts, minds and souls towards God. But Ignatius also thought about it as a downward journey. He saw saints as the most humble and lowly of people who wanted to serve Christ and serve others.

He spoke a lot about humility. For him it was a ‘gateway virtue’ that opened the way to acquiring all the other virtues (Sp. Ex. §146). Likewise he saw pride as a gateway vice that leads to all the other vices (Sp. Ex. §142). Ignatius described three degrees of humility and you can read about them here.

Why did he value humility so much? The answer is simple—he wanted to imitate Jesus who was humble. Jesus said of himself, “I am and gentle and humble in heart” (Mt. 11:29). And at the Last Supper he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them…but I am among you as one who serves.” (Lk 22: 24, 27).

St. Ignatius wanted Jesuits to be humble so when we are novices we do housework, we work in the garden and we are often sent to work in a hospital and with the poor. This work helps us to cultivate the virtue of humility. When Fr. Pedro Arrupe SJ was the novice master in Japan, he got the novices to do all sort of menial tasks. He recognised that this was hard for them but at the end of their two years in the novitiate he said “Now they are real Jesuits.” Like Ignatius, Fr. Arrupe knew that even if a Jesuit has many abilities, he will not bear fruit unless he has humility.

In summary, being a holy Jesuit is more about humility than ability, and when it comes to imitating the saints, before we get up to their level we have to try to get down to their level.

May God bless you abundantly on this wonderful feast day,

Fr. Niall