Lesson #25 – Explanation on the Three Modes of Humility

                    Mary’s School of Sanctity                   

Lesson #25 – The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – SECOND WEEK – EXPLANATION ON THE THREE MODES OF HUMILITY

This part of the Spiritual Exercises is not, strictly speaking, set up in the form of a meditation.  But one could certainly adapt this information into a meditation.  One would take the information given by St. Ignatius and ponder these points and make the suggested colloquies.   One could structure the information like St. Ignatius does.  Below we will first set out the explanation as St. Ignatius gives it and then we will set forth a structure which one could use if he were going to meditate on the information.


The first mode of humility is necessary for eternal salvation. This requires that I humble and abase myself as much as is possible for me, in order that I may obey in all things the law of God Our Lord.  Accordingly, I would not give consideration to the thought of breaking any commandment, divine or human, that binds me under pain of mortal sin, even though this offense would make me master of all creation or would preserve my life on earth.

The second mode of humility is more perfect than the first. I am in possession of it if my state of mind is such that I neither desire nor even prefer to have riches rather than poverty, to seek honor rather than dishonor, to have a long life rather than a short one, provided that here be the same opportunity to serve God Our Lord, and to save my soul.  Nor would I, for the sake of all creation or the purpose of saving my life, consider committing a single venial sin.

The third mode of humility is the most perfect.  This exists when the first and second forms are already possessed, and the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty being equally served, I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor[1] rather than riches, in order to be more like Christ Our Lord; [and] when I choose reproaches with Christ,[2] thus, [choosing] suffering rather than honor, and when I am willing to be considered as worthless and a fool for Christ Who suffered such treatment before me, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world.

If one desires to attain this third form of humility, it will be very profitable for him to make the three colloquies on the three classes of men (mentioned earlier).  He should implore Our Lord to be pleased to choose him for this third form of humility, which is greater and more perfect, so that he may better imitate and serve Him, provided it be for the equal or greater service and praise of His Divine Majesty.

Now We Set Up this Information as a Meditation.

The preparatory prayer is the same as usual: I ask God Our Lord for the grace that all my intentions, actions, and works may be directed purely to the service and praise of the Divine Majesty.

The FIRST PRELUDE: is to think of the three degrees of humility that St. Ignatius sets out for us.

The SECOND PRELUDE: to ask for the grace that I desire.  Here it will be to ask of Our Lord the grace that I may attain to the third degree of humility.

The FIRST POINT: THE 1ST MODE OF HUMILITY requires that one stay out of mortal sin.

The SECOND POINT: THE 2ND MODE OF HUMILITY requires one to stay out of venial sin.

The THIRD POINT: THE 3RD MODE OF HUMILITY requires one to imitate Our Lord by choosing poverty and to suffer reproaches like Our Lord did.

The COLLOQUY: We make the same type of colloquies that we made to Our Lady, Our Lord, and Our Heavenly Father in the meditation on the Two Standards.  Here I will beg for the third mode of humility which I am so unworthy of and which I need in order to have the most intimate friendship with the Holy Trinity.

Do we really desire humility?

We can well remember Our Lord’s words, “Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” [St. Matthew’s Gospel, 18:3-4]

How humble is humble enough?  If we find ourselves asking this question, then we might well wonder if we lack magnanimity of soul.  For magnanimity requires that we want to do the most we can to serve God Our Creator and Heavenly Father.

Our Lord is telling us that no one gets to heaven without having humility.  St. Ignatius explains to us three modes of humility and that if we possess at least one of these modes of humility we can indeed save our souls.  Yet, we must keep in mind that his explanation is given to us in order that we can examine ourselves and see how important humility is to us, and furthermore, to truly examine how much we love Christ.  Are we truly willing to imitate Christ, especially His humility?   St. Ignatius would invite us to ponder these three modes of humility so closely as to turn our pondering into a meditation bearing the fruit of begging Christ to increase our humility and our love for Him.  Indeed, St. Ignatius would have us learn so much about our own lack of humility and subsequent lack of ardor for Christ, that we will then greatly yearn for the third mode of humility and we will earnestly beg Our Lord to give us the third mode.  Now let us study the three modes of humility in order to increase our desiring the best for our souls and to foster the deepest and most beautiful friendship with Christ we can have. 

Considerations for the FIRST POINT: Those who possess the first mode of humility never want to commit a mortal sin.

St. Ignatius tells us that the souls who fall into this first mode are those souls who do not want to offend God by mortal sin.  They truly have a fear of committing mortal sin.  Yet this is the lowest degree of humility and we cannot save our souls without at least this grade of humility.  In order to preserve this degree, we must follow Our Lord’s precept to pray and be vigilant, “Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation.” [St. Matthew’s Gospel, 26:41]

It is so important to consider that to shoot for such a minimum of humility is not very generous.  What friend would we be to someone if we said to him, “We love you enough to not want to kill you”?  Surely, our love should be far greater than this!

True friends do not want to hurt each other in any way.  Therefore, we should not want to hurt Our Lord by anything that would displease Him.

The practical reality of someone being content to attain only this mode of humility is that he most likely will not be able to maintain this and will likely fall into mortal sin.  If we keep in mind how fragile our fallen human nature is, we can clearly see how easily one can fall into sin and lose his soul.  Think of the angels who were created with high intellects and fell.  Think of our first parents, who were dwelling in Paradise and fell.  Add to this the fact that King David, a man according to the heart of God, fell.  Further remember Solomon, who was endowed by God with extraordinary wisdom but fell.  Finally think of how even St. Peter, especially chosen by Our Lord to lead His apostles and His Church, yet he fell when he denied Our Lord three times.  Should we not have a great fear of becoming lukewarm and settling for mediocrity in our souls?  We should want to stay far away from any thing and any occasion which would not be Christ-like or that He would see as a danger to our souls.  May this be strong enough evidence to convince us not to be satisfied with having this mode of humility!

Considerations for the SECOND POINT: Those who possess the second mode of humility never want to commit a venial sin.

St. Ignatius tells us that the soul in this mode has reached a degree of detachment from creatures.  This soul has attained such holy indifference to temporal things, such as honor and dishonor, wealth and poverty, health and sickness, a long life or a short life.  This soul wants to avoid venial sin and all occasions of sin.

Although this soul is noble in its aspirations, where exactly does this soul stand?  Fr. Hurter gives us these self-examination questions regarding this mode of humility:

Have we attained this degree?  How easily we are deceived if we look at our good resolution and trust our frequent confessions.  But whence the many relapses into venial sin?  Why our many complaints when adversity strikes us, when the Lord is in earnest and takes us at our word, when He sends us humiliations, privations and sufferings?  Whence that craving within us, which rules us completely, for honors, comforts, and worldly joys?  Whence this dread of sacrifice, mortification, and self-abnegation?  Are we striving with all our strength to submit to the will of God?  For it is self-evident, on attentive consideration, that this is necessary if we would remain in the second degree.  “He that contemneth small things shall fall little by little.” [Eccl. 19:1]  However, we must strive for a still higher perfection.[3]

Yes, we must be on our guard constantly to work with all our efforts to despise all venial sin, especially deliberate venial sin.  We must work tirelessly to avoid those venial sins committed through weakness by recognizing our human frailty and begging heaven’s assistance in striving to please God in all things and accepting all crosses and inconveniences.

As edifying as this mode of humility is described here, we must climb ever higher.  For the tenderest friendship with Christ demands still more of us.  The holy union with Christ which He expects us to seek requires everything from us.  Remember, our God is a jealous God and wants us to love Him with our whole heart, and with our whole soul, and with our whole mind.[4] He insists on us giving Him everything.  He must be all in all to us.  This is what true charity and Divine Friendship requires.  Thus, St. Ignatius explains to us the highest level of humility to which we will now turn our attention.

Considerations for the THIRD POINT:  Those who possess the third mode of humility seek to imitate Christ in all things, even accepting poverty and reproaches for the praise and glory of the Divine Majesty.

This mode of humility is the highest.  Let us reflect on Fr. Hurter’s inspiring words to help us desire this mode of humility which leads to perfection.

This degree does not stop at indifference to poverty or riches, honor or dishonor, but provided the honor of God claims nothing else, this degree of humility actually decides in favor of that which the Savior chose as His portion, that is, poverty, shame, and suffering. What a grand, noble, and exalted disposition of the soul!  To come to such a conclusion the following motives should persuade us:

1) The love of our dear Divine Redeemer.  Indeed, we promised Him, “I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.”

2) The conviction that whatever the Lord, Who is wisdom itself, chooses, is the best, the most perfect, and will be the most useful for us.

3) The example of the saints, who were encouraged and drawn by the example of Our Divine Savior, and entered upon this road, seeking, loving, and choosing poverty, contempt, and suffering.

4) Even the example of the children of this world, who in their love of a human being, as of a child or a bride, or in their hopes of temporal gain or passing reward, even for carrying out their evil intentions, make great sacrifices, lead a very troublesome life, and take upon themselves great hardships.  Think of the soldier, the miner, the railroad-man.  Their lives are often harder than the mortified life of the penitent in the desert or the members of the strictest religious orders.

5) Glance at the reward given, not only in the hereafter, but already in this life.  There ensues even here below, as a result of a such a disposition of mind, a peace which the world does not and cannot give, and a joy of the kind which the Apostles experienced when they had been scourged. “And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.” [Acts 5:41] “I am,” declares St. Paul, “filled with comfort; I exceedingly abound with joy in all our tribulation.” No wonder that such souls have a taste of joy, in fact, are filled with joy; they are even now elevated above the things of earth, and can say with the Apostle of the gentiles: “But the things that were a gain to me, the same have I counted loss for Christ.  Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord.” [Phil. 3:7]

6) The blessing which rests on them for such a disposition of mind, and on the labors for the salvation of the souls of others.  Truly Apostolic men are indeed apt instruments in the hands of Christ.  They prefer sacrifices, self-denial, and suffering.  They do not seek themselves, but the greater honor of God.  Hence, we see the real followers of Our Divine Savior on the way to the cross rendering great service in the conversion of sinners.[5]

This third mode of humility is so perfecting and beautiful we should desire with all our hearts to have it!  We should strive after this exalted degree of humility with the help of Our Lady and her Divine Son.  Let us implore God to elect and elevate us to it. Let us prepare ourselves by degrees for this grade of humility.

But exactly what is necessary to reach this mode of humility?

·         Let us resolve not only to avoid all mortal sin but to despise all venial sin, indeed to despise the very shadow of sin!


·         Let us resolve to make good use of the daily opportunities for mortification and self-denial, to become accustomed to patiently bear rebukes, slights, and humiliations.


·         Let us strive to be masters of ourselves and endeavor to be faithful followers and imitators of Christ Himself.


·         Let us purify our intentions, and please Our Lord as the Mystical Spouse of our souls.[6]

There is nothing higher for the soul to aspire to than the Mystical Marriage with Our Lord, the heavenly Bridegroom.[7]  Our Lord refers to Himself as the Bridegroom many times in the Gospels, for indeed, He intends that every elect soul be His spouse.  Hence, St. Ignatius tells us to implore Our Lord to choose us for this mode of humility so we can better imitate Him and serve Him in our lives.  What better result can be gotten from our cooperation in what we set out to accomplish from the first meditations on the Principle and Foundation?  What noble friendship with Our Dear Lord Jesus Christ!!

Concluding thoughts:

Now we find that we can turn our thoughts to our begging colloquies that St. Ignatius recommended to those who desire to attain this third form of humility—for only this third form should satisfy our soul’s hunger for Christ!


[Addressing Our Lady as St. Ignatius advised us to do.] O, my mother Mary, I desire with all my heart to have this third degree of humility.  Thou, tender Mother and excellent model of humility, were uniquely fashioned by God to help me, thy poor child to learn humility.  I place myself in thy maternal hands.  Please assist me to despise all sin and all things which are displeasing to Thy Son.  Please aid me, dearest, tenderest, Mother, to embrace all suffering, both moral and physical, so I can better learn to imitate thy Divine Son.  The Divine Bridegroom is attractive to me and I need thy help, O Mary, to properly dispose my soul for Him.  I beg thee, dearest Mother Mary, to guide me and teach me all I need to know in order to please thy Son. I will say a Hail Mary.

[Then St. Ignatius has us address Our Lord with a similar colloquy.] O my dearest Lord Jesus Christ, I love Thee and I need Thee.  I beg Thee to help me by giving me this third mode of humility.  I know I am so unworthy of having this tremendous gift, and yet, I beg Thee from the bottom of my heart to grant me this deep humility.  O my sweet Jesus, Thy humility is so attractive and charming to me!  O how I long to imitate Thy humility!  Alas, I am so weak and inexperienced in imitating Thee that I have no real idea how to begin.  But I know that Thou will not despise my petition because Thou hast Thyself invited me when Thou said, “Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart,” and “Ask and you shall receive.”  I throw myself at Thy Feet and beg Thee to keep Thy countless examples of humility ever before my mind so I can ponder them and endeavor to imitate them. Close with an Anima Christi.

[Then I will address the Father with a similar colloquy.] O almighty Father, Thou hast given Thy Dear Son to us to be our Model of virtue. I beg Thee to help me follow Thy Son’s examples and imitate Him in all things.  Help me to faithfully use every circumstance as a golden opportunity to imitate Thy Divine Son.  Help me to have the strength to suffer whatever Thou art pleased to send me, both moral and physical suffering, even poverty and bearing the reproaches others inflict upon me. 

Help me to always see that nothing is more important than faithful service to Thee.  Likewise, help me to ever remember that whatever Thou hast chosen for my life and its circumstances, is because of Thy Providential care.  Thou hast loved me from all eternity and thus, all things are for my good and for Thy Divine Honor and Glory.  Let me delight in seeing Thee glorified in all things.  Also, I beg Thee to help me be ever grateful to Thee for all Thou dost in time and in eternity. Close with an Our Father.    

We have studied the Three Modes of Humility and have hopefully acquired a great desire to be of the third mode.  In our next two lessons we will study intimately Our Dear Lord’s Passion which will further help us pour out our hearts to beg Him to help us imitate His profound humility.  By our faithful imitation of Him we hope to better dispose our souls to receive the wonderful gift of the third mode of humility.   We hope to grow this noble heart-felt desire in these upcoming lessons/contemplations on the Passion of Our Lord.

[1]           i.e., in His Poverty.

[2]           i.e.,  suffering what He suffered.

[3]           Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat, by Hugo Hurter, S.J., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, copyright 1918; third edition, 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 188.


We should also keep in mind that even if we do not have the sacramental confession available without compromise that we must practice perfect acts of contrition.  Furthermore, by using indulgenced prayers and sacramentals such as our rosary beads, and Signs of the Cross, we can remit our venial sins.  Our Lord indeed does not leave us orphans, especially when we are sacrificing and avoiding compromise out of love for Him.


[4]            “Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.” [St. Matthew 22:37-38]

[5]           Considerations from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, S.J., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, copyright 1918; third edition, 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 188-190.


[6]           These points are a paraphrase from Sketches for the Exercises of An Eight Days’ Retreat by Hugo Hurter, S.J., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Theology in the Catholic University of Innsbruck, copyright 1918; third edition, 1926, St. Louis, MO and London, Page 191.

[8]           Of course, this is only a suggestion of a possible colloquy.  The exercitant can compose his own.