Bishop Ullathorne, a nineteenth-century Roman Catholic Bishop of Birmingham was once asked if he knew of any good books on humility, and he is reported to have said, ‘Only one, and I wrote it’.
If this is true (and it deserves to be), it’s a good illustration of what real humility is about. We so often think of it as self-abasement, and there is a great deal in some Christian traditions which encourages people to concentrate on their unworthiness and sinfulness, and to adopt a cringing, guilt-ridden attitude towards their own gifts.
This is rank ingratitude, in my view. The opposite of pride is not self-negation, but self-forgetfulness, which is fully compatible with proper self-esteem and thankfulness for what God has given us.
John the Baptist was no shrinking violet, and he had a clear sense of the mission he was called to. If he had been presumptuous, he could have claimed equality with Elijah, or said he was the Messiah, but he didn’t. Equally, however, he accepted that he would have to leave the stage when one greater than he came.