Mateus Campos Felipe,

How humility brings us great success

  • June 15, 2023

When we were young many wanted to do great things — end global poverty, help usher in an era of lasting peace, develop a cure for cancer.

These are great aspirations, not to be ridiculed. But by the time we hit our 40s, those who are out to change the world may realize that they have made little progress in that direction. Once we are 70, most of us realize we never will.

Of course, most people do not have high aspirations. They may focus more on earning a good income, having fun and getting along with their family and workmates. But for those who do, the common realization is that the world does not budge when we try to give it a shove.

We may have even sought to live according to higher virtues such as courage and magnanimity. However, even if we seek to be courageous and magnanimous, we rarely have the opportunity to exercise such virtues. In fact, the pursuit of these virtues might actually be a vice.

Just who do we think we are to see ourselves as the harbingers of a great new era in history? What makes us so audacious to assume the world turns in the palms of our hands? And isn’t that the real problem — the hubris of those who strive to remake the world in their own image?

Didn’t most great efforts to usher in a golden age end up in gigantic bloodbaths of the innocent? Didn’t the quest for perfect justice or the perfect race end with megalomaniacs grinding down all who posed a threat to their power?

St. Francis de Sales urged his lay readers to pursue meekness, temperance, integrity and humility. Those simpler virtues must mark all our actions. Such virtues are the best even if they are not the most spectacular. If we practice them faithfully, they lead to the flourishing of every type of virtue. “By perfect practice of a single virtue a person can reach the heights in all virtue.”

Francis served as bishop of Geneva — although he was never allowed to set foot in the city — in the early 17th century during the chaos of the so-called Wars of Religion. Yet Francis eschewed the path of violence and contention, striving to bring people of the Calvinist region to the Catholic faith through preaching and the pamphlets he delivered to people’s homes. Having in his youth been convinced by the Calvinists that he was predestined to an eternity in hell, Francis overcame that belief and preached a God of love.

Francis achieved great success through his gentleness, meekness and humility. In his small corner of France, he did more to bring about a renaissance of Christian living than did the mighty armies that slaughtered and burned their way through Western Europe for a century and a half. He recognized that God is great, and we are not.

If we want to change the world for the better, Francis showed the way. Contentious arguments and demonizing our opponents will not bring Western society to Jesus. Rather, only when we become humble and rely on God’s grace do we have an influence for good.

Stances which further polarize an already divided world are not Christian. Nor will they bring us an inch closer to God’s kingdom. They may make us feel as though we are helping to vanquish the dark forces which create war, abortion, sexual abuse, environmental devastation and other forms of social disintegration. But when we mount our high horses, we only ride further into the darkness.

How we live our lives is of great import but not in the way we are prone to imagine. The government, business and the school system are far from irrelevant. But to change the world for the better, we must begin with ourselves. Our primary goal should be to grow in humility.

This is counter-intuitive. We think we have the best ideas and that people should listen to us and even do what we advocate. Instead, they tell us to mind our own business. Perhaps they are right. Rather than concocting vain fantasies, we should listen with our hearts to what God, the Living Presence, is saying.

This does not mean being passive in the face of evil. But it does mean becoming more contemplative and relying on Higher Power. For the way of self-sacrificing love bears more fruit than entering the battle for worldly power on the world’s own terms.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.