Humility Defeats Despair

September 12, 2020

And in order to see my own faults, I need one of the most crucial virtues of the gospels: humility. And who teaches us humility? Christ, who became a man, to share our weak human nature. He knew suffering. He knew anguish. He knew fear.

How do you make people see? You pray for them. Pray for them. Because you cannot force it. So I still believe the best way of helping other people is to try to radiate something we don’t see in our society: peace and joy. That is something everybody longs for and very few people have.

Interview with Alice von Hildebrand

Alice von Hildebrand is the widow of Dietrich von Hildebrand, the Catholic theologian, and teacher best known for his book In Defense of Purity. Originally from Belgium, Alice is fluent in German, French, and English. She fled Europe during the war and arrived in New York in 1940; she then taught philosophy at Hunter College in Manhattan for 37 years. She is now 88 years old and quite frail, but still has plenty to say about God, truth, and moral decay.

I hardly go into the city [New York] anymore, but I went a couple of weeks ago. And when you look at the fashion – then you say to yourself, to be blind also has advantages! And to be deaf.

Well, let us pray for the world. Let us pray, because we are worse off. I can only say when you read the gospel, particularly Matthew and Mark and Luke, speaking of the end of time when people are going to be so disobedient and such confusion…

People are confused. So, we truly need the Old Testament prophets. But many people don’t want to hear. I’ll tell you something, it’s very sad not to have children because children are one of life’s greatest blessings, but if I had a child today I think I would be constantly living in fear and trembling, from fear of pornography. When I was a child I did not know that it existed, and I don’t recall ever seeing something. But now you go to the mall, and how do you protect these innocent little children?

Read the word of the Gospel: “Woe to those who mislead these little children. It would be better for them to have a millstone around their neck.” This is what is happening today. You give your child a television, you press on a channel, and what do you see?

Now, how can you convince people? For 37 years I found myself in a milieu that was totally foreign to me because my background was so radically different. Overnight you find yourself among Moslems, atheists, there are Jews that are atheists and Jews that are conservative and there are Jews that are reformed and there are Jews that are Orthodox, and then you have all the Protestants and Catholics, and Catholics, some of them are Catholic only because they are Irish and that’s about all. And you address a public where no two people have the same background and the same ideas. That’s a challenge. What you do when you enter the classroom is to say, “God help me.” Because it’s a very, very difficult task!

Now there is one great message from my husband, but unfortunately, the book is not translated into English. All of us in various degrees, in various degrees but all of us, have blind spots. Now I recall my husband speaking about Christ coming to Jericho and there is a blind man, and he screams and cries and says, Help me, Help me. And Christ goes to him and says, “What do you want?”

And what does he say? “That I may see.” To be blind is a terrible, terrible thing. Now, do you know what my husband’s comment was? He said This man begged for physical sight because he knew that he was blind. But we are morally blind, and the problem is we don’t know it.

But if you do not want to see, there is nothing that can be done. I saw that in the classroom in New York. Thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of teaching philosophy. Had I taught French, which is my mother tongue, that would not have been difficult, because if someone raised his hand to disagree with me, he would make himself ridiculous. I know French and you don’t.

But you can say what you please when you speak about truth and goodness, about justice, about purity, whatever it is, and people raise their hand: “I don’t agree. That’s your opinion. I have a different opinion.”

So one of the key problems is blindness. If you are young and every night you sleep with another man, and sometimes it’s truly fun and sometimes it’s a failure, and many of them bring you gifts – it’s going to be very difficult to convince you that it is wrong.

I recall a student of mine. You know, in Hunter you had to be very careful because basically, it is atheistic. If you say anything that even smells Christian, already you are teaching religion and you are no longer teaching philosophy. So, I hinted on the fact that love should be the bond between a man and a woman and not the pursuit of fun. And this student raised his hand, and he said, “No. I’m having a great time and she is, too. What can you say against it?” So you see, or you don’t see.

Believe me – and now I’m quoting my husband – this moral blindness is the cancer of our society. What is the solution? Preaching? That is a very risky affair because many people will accuse you of placing yourself above them. I believe the best solution is prayer. But I also try to look at myself. I’m at the end of my life and I’m still convinced that there are certain things about myself that I don’t see.

And in order to see my own faults, I need one of the most crucial virtues of the gospels: humility. And who teaches us humility? Christ, who became a man, to share our weak human nature. He knew suffering. He knew anguish. He knew fear.

How do you make people see? You pray for them. Pray for them. Because you cannot force it. So I still believe the best way of helping other people is to try to radiate something we don’t see in our society: peace and joy. That is something everybody longs for and very few people have.

Interview with Alice von Hildebrand
New Rochelle, New York, October 22, 2011
Vivian Warren, Erna Albertz, Emmy Barth, Woodcrest Bruderhof

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