A Meditation on Two Standards asked us to choose for or against Jesus and his work on behalf of the kingdom of God. Presuming we have opted for Jesus, Ignatius offers two additional meditations during the Second Week, Three Kinds of People[ii] and Three Kinds of Humility.[iii] They are intended to help us recognize the depth of our commitment to active discipleship with Jesus. This article addresses the meditation on Three Kinds of Humility.
Three Kinds of Humility
Three Kinds of Humility offers three ways of loving God, one building upon another, that culminate in complete identification with Jesus’ life. The first kind of humility, moral behavior that is commonly expressed in fidelity to the Ten Commandments, while good, lacks sufficient depth for discipleship with Jesus. The second kind of humility, a life grounded in indifference to created things and dedicated to discerning God’s will, overcomes the insufficiency of the first kind of humility. The third kind of humility is a God-given grace of complete identification with Jesus that only a few will ever experience. It is the second kind of humility that is essential for following Jesus in this world.
First Kind of Humility[iv]
People with the first kind of humility manifest their relationship with God through normative moral behavior that is commonly expressed in fidelity to the Ten Commandments (Ex 20:2-17; Deut 5:6-21). They recognize the primacy of God in their lives and avoid any actions that would result in sin so serious as to completely sever relationship with God (mortal sin). While this kind of humility is essential to the moral life, it leads to a juridical or formulaic relationship with God that has only a superficial commitment to discerning God’s will and following Jesus in this world. Consequently, although good, the first kind of humility is insufficient for discipleship with Jesus.
Second Kind of Humility[v]
In addition to fidelity to normative moral behavior (the Ten Commandments), people with the second kind of humility also live with the inner freedom to put aside self-interest and acquire the indifference to created things that is necessary to discern God’s will in every aspect of their lives. For this reason, they are vigilant in avoiding both serious (i.e., mortal) and lesser (i.e., venial) sin, so as not to hinder their deepening relationship with God. This level of humility is verifiable in its openness to the promptings of the Spirit and in its authentic desire to act upon them. Consequently, the second kind of humility has the indifference to created things that is necessary to discern God’s will and follow Jesus in this world.
Third Kind of Humility[vi]
In addition to fidelity to normative moral behavior and the indifference to created things necessary to discern God’s will, those with the third kind of humility also seek to imitate Jesus’ life.
They desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; and to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. For Christ was treated this way before them.
This is the most perfect expression of humility and it leads to Christ-like union with God through its expression of profound love of God and neighbor. While all may aspire to this level of humility, not all will attain it. It is an unmerited gift from God that has been witnessed to only by some people throughout the ongoing flow of history.[vii]
The third kind of humility transforms the indifference to all created things that Ignatius asks for in the Principle and Foundation, to an intentional preference to live as Jesus did, poor and humble, and focused on God’s will and the work of the kingdom of God. It also builds upon the disposition of the third kind of people in the meditation on Three Kinds of People who have the inner freedom to put aside self-interest in order to achieve the indifference to created things that is necessary to discern God’s will and follow Jesus in this world, to now actively desire to imitate Jesus in his poverty, in the insults he endured for preaching the good news of the kingdom of God, and in the humility he manifested for welcoming the most vulnerable in his midst.
When the Three Kinds of Humility are considered in light of A Meditation on Two Standards and Three Kinds of People it is clear that the call to follow, even imitate, Jesus involves more than taking on his poverty, suffering, and humility. It also necessitates the courage to place ourselves in the midst of the suffering of others, and once there to act, both in word and action, by incarnating his love, compassion and justice in a world still so in need of redemption.
Ignatius suggests that before we engage the contemplations of Jesus’ public ministry, whose intent is to have us come to know him more fully, love him more deeply, and commit to following him in discipleship, that we reflect on the Three Kinds of Humility, considering even a sincere desire to attain complete identification with Jesus.[viii]
If one desires to attain this third kind of humility, it will help very much to use the same triple colloquy (conversation) of A Meditation on Two Standards. There, we asked in succession, Mary, Jesus and the God of creation, for the grace to be received under the standard of Christ, first in the highest spiritual poverty, and even in actual poverty; secondly, in bearing insults and wrongs, thereby to imitate him better, provided only we can suffer these without sin on the part of another, and without offense of the Divine Majesty.[ix]
As in the meditation on Three Kinds of People, let us continue to pray for the courage to discern God’s will and allow the Spirit to lead us to wherever God will have us go to act with Jesus on behalf of the unfinished work of the kingdom of God.
[i] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.
[ii] Puhl, L. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Sections 149-56.
[iii] Ibid., Sections 165-67.
[iv] Ibid., Section 165.
[v] Ibid., Section 166.
[vi] Ibid., Section 167.
[vii] Some would include Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero and Mother Teresa of Calcutta as examples of the third kind of humility.
[viii] The three meditations of the Second Week are also intended to reflect upon the election of a way of life or the deepening of a commitment to one already chosen.
[ix] Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Section 147.