“Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.”
—Saint Teresa of Calcutta
As we can see from this thought-provoking quote, Mother Teresa doesn't see humility as the world sees it. The world sees it as blind self-neglect or a degrading regard for oneself. In contrast, her life shows us that she was a champion for the precious, God-given dignity of every single person.
Her definition of humility stresses the down-to-earth, unattached nature of true humility. In practicing it, we have a clarity of sight that allows us to not be consumed by the standards and judgments of the world, whether those judgments place us in a positive or negative light.
Here is her counter-cultural, inspiring, and challenging Humility List.
SAINT MOTHER TERESA'S HUMILITY LIST
1. Speak as little as possible about yourself.
2. Keep busy with your own affairs and not those of others.
3. Avoid curiosity.
4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others.
5. Accept small irritations with good humor.
6. Do not dwell on the faults of others.
7. Accept censures even if unmerited.
8. Give in to the will of others.
9. Accept insults and injuries.
10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and disregarded.
11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked by someone.
12. Do not seek to be admired and loved.
13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity.
14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right.
15. Choose always the more difficult task.
Taking a Closer Look
At first glance, Mother Teresa's "Humility List" appears to be a startling and even extreme guide to living the virtue of humility. However, if we look at the list with eyes of faith and thoughtful discernment, we'll see that it is not "extreme"—it simply requires just those two things: faith and discernment.
Faith – These guidelines are not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed! They are challenging, and require the grace of God to sustain us and increase our stamina when we wish to fall back into our deep-rooted, prideful ways. So take heart—if God wishes us to live the virtues (which He does, of course) then we must trust that He will provide us with the means to fulfill His will.
Discernment – Some of the points on the list can be taken to an unhealthy extreme: "Accept insults and injuries..." "Do not interfere in the affairs of others..." In some serious cases, it may end up being the case that the virtuous response is to do the opposite of what she's saying! But Mother Teresa's list is not meant to be applied to situations in which we encounter immoral or unlawful behavior. Here is another clarification: when she says "Avoid curiosity," she is not saying "Don't be interested in others." She wants us to avoid idle curiosity, which can lead us to sin. This list is for our daily sanctification.
We invite you to take this list to prayer, and ask Our Lord and St. Mother Teresa to help you see how to make these important points a part of your daily growth in virtue!
"Learn to be humble by doing all the humble work and doing it for Jesus. You cannot learn humility from books; you learn it by accepting humiliations. Humiliations are not meant to torture us; they are gifts from God. These little humiliations—if we accept them with joy—will help us to be holy, to have a meek and humble heart like Jesus."
—St. Teresa of Calcutta
This article has been updated. It was originally published in September 2015.