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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 30th August 2020.

Last weekend I was thinking that I might reflect today on ‘Humility’. And then I saw an item in the Sunday Times, which mentioned humility, so that seemed to be a sign that I should!

The item in the Sunday Times was a book review by the author and Times columnist Max Hastings. The book in question was ‘Why the Germans Do It Better’, by John Kampfner, a foreign affairs journalist with 40 years’ experience of Germany. One of the first points that Max Hastings makes in the review, in relation to the success of German industry, is this: “[Kampfner] suggests that among reasons for the Germans’ success, and our relative failure, is British arrogance, alongside their counter-intuitive humility. The architect David Chipperfield, who has worked there for years, says: ‘Germans articulate anxieties we should all have’”.

I wonder if the humility thus attributed to the Germans may be due to an attempt by them to atone, to make up for past history, to quietly prove to the world that they can achieve high standards in industry for the benefit of themselves (including their own self-esteem) and the rest of the world.

When we get things seriously wrong in life and offend others or lose respect, complacency is not an option. To regain respect and esteem, we are not going to do it by trying to be self-important or arrogant. We have to accept our faults (humility) and do something positive to try to restore other people’s confidence and respect in us. In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs warns us against the danger of arrogance and reminds us of the value of humility: “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honour.”

Being humble before God means admitting our faults and asking for forgiveness and for help to restore our mental well-being and our relationships with others. The writer Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941) put it this way: “Instead of wasting energy on being disgusted with yourself, accept your own failure, and just say to God, ‘Well, in spite of all I may say or fancy, this is what I am really like – so please help my weakness’ This, not self disgust, is the real and fruitful humility.”

Humility is about not being full of our own importance and showing respect for others. I like this little story about humility from one of my favourite go-to resources, which I have mentioned before – ‘Complete Quotes and Anecdotes’, by Tony Castle:

“Some American tourists one day visited the home of Beethoven. A young woman among them sat down at the great composer’s piano and began to play his Moonlight Sonata. After she had finished, she turned to the old caretaker and said, ‘I presume a great many musicians visit this place every year.’ ‘Yes’, he replied, ‘Paderewski was here last year.’ ‘And did he play on Beethoven’s piano?’ ‘No, he said he wasn’t worthy’.”

Humility is one of those things like love, compassion and sympathy, which need at least two people to be involved, rather than just self. And like love, compassion and sympathy, it’s about thinking more about the other person, about following Jesus’s command to ‘love thy neighbour’. St. Paul summed it up like this in his Letter to the Philippians: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

I will end with a prayer about humility by William Barclay, who was a theologian, a minister of the Church of Scotland, and a Professor of Divinity at the University of Glasgow:

“O Father, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice, accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize, to sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. This we ask for thy name’s sake.”


Fr. Ray