Saint Paul helps us today to continue our meditation on the virtue of humility. We have seen last week that this virtue is necessary for justification, and that all the works performed without this excellent virtue are useless. We have also seen that everything we have has been given by God and that, therefore, there is no reason for us to be proud. True humility does not make us deny our gifts, but rather use them for the glory of God. It supposes that we acknowledge first our gifts. It is what our Blessed Mother did when she said her Magnificat: for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty has done great things to me: and holy is his name. It is what Saint Paul does when he says: By the grace of God, I am what I am. He, who was a persecutor of the Church, is now one of her Apostles, and this is the work of the grace of God.
Holy Scriptures teaches us about the virtue of humility. Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Commentating on this verse, Saint Benedict tells us what to do in order to be exalted. He describes humility as a ladder – the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream – on which Angels appeared to him descending and ascending. By that descent and ascent we must surely understand nothing else than this, that we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility. And the ladder thus set up is our life in the world, which the Lord raises up to heaven if our heart is humbled. This ladder has 12 degrees that we have to climb one by one.
The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keeps the fear of God before his eyes and bewares of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear Him. Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices, whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet,
or the self-will, and check also the desires of the flesh.
This is basically what Holy Mother Church constantly recalls us during the Sundays after Pentecost. There is even not an ounce of humility in a person who still lives in sin.
On the 5th Sunday, we were told by Saint Peter to refrain our tongues from evil and our lips that we speak no guile. We can never speak enough of the seriousness of the sins of the tongue, which are often the sins of the coward. Someone once asked Saint Anthony, "What is backbiting?" and he replied, "It is every sort of wicked word we dare not speak in front of the person about whom we are talking." This is truly the nature of backbiters. They cannot do physical harm to those who are absent, so they strike at them with their tongue. Saint Thomas Aquinas says, "Destroying a person's reputation is a very serious wrong." And Saint Bernard declares, "Backbiting is a great vice, a great sin, a great crime."
The Scriptures says You shall not curse the deaf! Here is how Saint Gregory explains these words: "Backbiting someone who is deaf means backbiting one who is absent and cannot hear you. Just as a deaf man cannot hear or understand what is said, so it is with an absent person someone backbites. He cannot reply or rectify the errors of which he is the object."
He who speaks evil commits a great sin. So does he who listens to him, as Saint Bernard explains: “I would have difficulty deciding which of them is more damnable," he says, "he who backbites or he who listens to the backbiter. Even if we excuse it as wit or banter, every jesting word must be banished not only from our mouth, but also from our ears. "
In today’s gospel, Our Lord heals a deaf and dumb man. Speaking and hearing are such gifts from God! But as well as every other gift, they must be used with humility for a good purpose. Sins of the tongues are unfortunately so common throughout the world. But when they come from Christians, they are even more serious, more reprehensible and more harmful. They hurt the Mystical Body of Christ and are object of scandal. On the day of your Baptism, the priest put the salt of wisdom on your tongue and touched your ears saying like Jesus: Ephpheta, be opened. This was done so that you can hear the teaching of God and speak out wisely in order to praise God.
Let us remember, brethren, that we are accountable for what we say and what we listen. The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keeps the fear of God before his eyes. May this fear make us use well all our faculties and abilities for the glory of God and not for our own satisfaction!