How I Learned the Difference Between Humility and Humiliation | Sojourners

How I Learned the Difference Between Humility and Humiliation

Real humility is truth and justice.
Photo-illustrations by Israel G. Vargas

"WE WILL MAKE you humble,” the superior in the Catholic order told me. I was 18 years old and had just joined a community of Catholic women religious.

We were eating dinner, and I was excitedly telling her and the other sisters what I had learned in theology class. A sister asked me, “Do you want to be a theologian?” Without hesitation, I answered “yes.” She shot a quizzical look at the superior, who said, “Being a theologian is likely to make you proud and arrogant. Don’t worry—we will make you humble.” She and the others smiled knowingly. Confused and hurt, I shut up.

Becoming a theologian was not something that I wanted to do for prestige. It was what I felt called to do; it was, and is, my vocation. As is usually the case in stories like this one, not all the sisters agreed with the superior’s comment.

Later that evening, one of the older sisters approached me as I was studying in the convent library. She put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Little sister, do you know what humility is?” Before I could reply, she said, “Humility is the truth.” Then she pointed at my books and notes. “The truth is that you love to study, question, think, and write. The truth is that these are the gifts God has given you. So be humble: Accept them and do something with them for the greater good.”

My life has taken me far from that convent library, but I’ve never forgotten her words because they freed me. After all, isn’t that what truth does? It sets us free. But free from what?

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