What a person is before God, that he is and no more. (Admonition XX)
“What a person is before God, that he is and no more.” This is perhaps the most powerful thing that Francis of Assisi ever said. Thomas of Celano recorded it, and Saint Bonaventure wrote that Francis repeated this saying frequently.
In August of 1967, I was introduced to this saying during a retreat before I entered the novitiate (a year-long type of boot camp). In some way, I have been reflecting on it during 50 years of Franciscan living.
With no disrespect to Francis, I think we could add “and no less” to the end of the quote above. Unfortunately, some people think that they can grow in virtue only if they lie to themselves. For example, with some frequency, you hear individuals try to deflect a compliment by saying “But the mashed potatoes were a little lumpy” or “I could have done better if only . . . ” (usually identifying something beyond the person’s control).
In his novel David Copperfield, Charles Dickens shows that humility can be easily counterfeited. The character Uriah Heep is extremely proud of being “very ’umble, living with a very ‘umble mother in a very ‘umble house.” Eventually, however, Uriah is exposed as an extremely greedy man.
Living honestly before God always carries over into living honestly with other people and in one’s own eyes.
God of all mercy, you know how easily we get confused about the virtue of humility, very often worrying that if we grow in that virtue other people will take advantage of us. Help us to be humble enough always to tell ourselves the truth at the deepest level and live it out.