The Four Pillars of the Oratory: Humility

We have been exploring the four pillars of Oratorian life: PRAYER, CHARITY, HUMILITY, and JOY. This week, we turn our focus to humility, a misunderstood virtue.

When we think of humility, we are tempted to see it as a liability in today’s world. Humility is viewed as a weakness - perhaps a lack of confidence or willingness to be steamrolled - but this is not true humility. Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us, as we truly are - no more, but also no less - and acting on that truth. This means acknowledging and using the gifts and abilities God has bestowed on us, rejoicing in them with a sense of gratitude rather than self-aggrandizement. It also means recognizing our limitations and faults, living accordingly and submitting ourselves to the mercy of God rather than trying to justify ourselves. Humility also requires defending ourselves and others from unjust treatment, out of respect for ourselves, our oppressors, and the truth.

This sense of humility explains why Oratorians can be described as the “stagehands” of the Church. They put their gifts to work in the service of the Church’s mission, without concern for their own comfort, and desiring recognition and praise from no one but the Lord. They are not ambitious when it comes to awards or titles, which they eschew (you will not meet an Oratorian monsignor!). In spite of their reputation for holiness, there are relatively few Oratorian saints and blesseds, because they do not draw attention to themselves.

The humility characteristic of Oratorian life, as with its other traits, comes to us directly from the example of St. Philip, for whom humility was to be completely detached from self so as to give himself entirely to God. He was relentless (and often humorous) in inculcating this virtue into himself and his penitents, as numerous stories about him attest. “Above all things,” he was known to repeat, “one must be humble.”

Next week, we will focus on the fourth pillar, joy.

Note: This article is part of our ongoing series on St. Philip Neri and the Oratory, in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Philip.
Please direct any questions or comments to Fr. Jeff.

Return to article index