Lesson: In this meditation, Saint Ignatius identifies what he calls three “degrees” or “methods” of being humble. All three are good, but the third degree is best. Not everyone will fully embrace the second and third degrees, but everyone must obtain at least the first one for the sake of eternal salvation.
This meditation will require self-examination on these three degrees of humility. First, understand each degree. Then examine your own life in light of each degree.
First Degree: In Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans 1:29–32 (RSV-CE), there is given a list of sins that keep people from the grace of God:
They were filled with all manner of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity, they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who do such things deserve to die, they not only do them but approve those who practice them.
Even one of these serious sins is enough to keep a person from union with God. These mortal sins must be understood and rejected completely.
The first degree of humility is reached if a person would refuse to ever do even one of these mortal sins under any and every condition. Thus, even if one’s physical life were at risk, one must choose death rather than a mortal sin. Obedience to the will of God and the complete rejection of serious sin is required of all people.
First Reflection: Spend some time with the above list of sins and perform an examination of conscience. You may also use the Ten Commandments or the Seven Capital Sins as a guide. Consider how passionately you reject these sins. Do you love God to the point that your love of God compels you to reject all that is contrary to His holy will? Prayerfully work to grow in your desire of love over sin.
Second Degree: One of the fundamental teachings of Saint Ignatius is indifference and detachment from all personal preferences. This is hard to obtain. The person who obtains the second degree of humility will first and foremost desire that everything they do is done so as to give the greatest glory to God. Once that desire is present, this person must also strive to have no personal preference for what God wills. Thus, if God wills that one be rich, that’s fine. If He wills that one be poor, that’s fine. If He wills that one encounter praise, or humiliation, honor, or rejection, an easy life, or a hard one, etc., then the person is ready for all. In other words, one’s only desire is to seek to give God the greatest glory and to choose what that involves.
Additionally, since every sin is offensive to God, this person must strive to be purified of every desire for even a venial sin. The desire to commit serious sin was already eliminated in the first degree of humility, but now the desire to commit even the smallest sin is to be eliminated.
Second Reflection: Spend time reflecting upon the small sins to which you are attached. Prayerfully surrender those sins over and seek to be free even of the desire for these sins.
Additionally, reflect upon contrasting states in life. See yourself wealthy, then poor. Praised by others, then ridiculed. Successful in business, then unsuccessful. Most likely you desire the “good” outcomes. But that which is truly good is that which is the will of God. Therefore, ponder God calling you to poverty, persecution and the like. Seek to eliminate any repulsion you have for this and strive to desire only what God wants.
Third Degree: This third degree is the most difficult to attain. This person has already achieved the first two degrees to perfection, but rather than being merely detached from riches or poverty, praise or ridicule, etc., this person chooses and deeply desires that path which most clearly imitates our Lord in His humanity. Therefore, this person positively desires poverty rather than riches, humiliation rather than honors, the loss of all rather than gaining all. The only caveat is that the poverty, humiliation and loss of all will enable the person to give at least as much glory to God as the alternative. Thus, as long as God can be glorified, the most undesirable choice is desired since this is the path our Lord walked. The lowly road is the road that most imitates our divine Lord, so that is what one should desire and choose.
Third Reflection: Spend time reflecting upon the rejection, humiliation and poverty of our Lord. Then look at your own life and prayerfully seek this same life. Surrender your desires over to God and pray that He fill you with the deepest desire to imitate His earthly life. How does He want you to be poor, rejected, mistreated, etc., in such a way that these experiences will lead you to give the greatest glory to God.
- Baptism of the Lord
- Two Standards
- Three Classes of Men
- Calling of Apostles
- Wedding at Cana
- Cleansing the Temple
- Sermon on the Mount
- Calming the Storm
- Walking on Water
- The Apostles were Sent to Preach
- Conversion of Mary Magdalene
- How Christ Fed the Five Thousand
- Transfiguration of Christ
- Resurrection of Lazarus
- Supper in Bethany
- Three Ways of Humility