Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Beauty of Humility: Saint Benedict's Way

Saint Benedict in the Holy Rule describes humility as various steps that his monks must take to reach a level of humbleness that eventually will lead them to attain exultation in heaven. The degrees of humility of the Rule can be applied to the daily lives of men and women as well as the monks or nuns living in a monastery. Sister Aquinata Bockman O.S.B., calls our attention to this very concept in Perspectives on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Expanding Our Hearts in Christ. The Rule may be centuries old, but the practicality and spirituality emphasizing the importance of humility is truly relevant in our twenty-first century world. 
The first degree of humility reminds us to remember to always keep in mind the fear of the Lord, the awareness of the presence of God in our everyday lives. Saint Benedict says that we must always remember that God is watching us from heaven and He sees everything that we do and knows our very thoughts. I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of pressure. So what do we do in our daily lives? Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body comes to mind, we embrace a full awareness that we have been created in the image of God. We know that each one of us has a vocation to love one another whether we are living with our biological family members or religious family members because we understand that God is love. By living our everyday lives striving to love as God loves we become aware of the presence of God.

The next degree of humility requires that there is a relinquishing of the self-will, the letting go of the desire to hold onto control, this I had found to be the most difficult in religious life. We know that our culture promotes the message of everything being about “me” and I must do whatever I must do to ensure my happiness, my wants and my desires. If I have to push others to the side or climb over them to get what I want in life then so be it. Saint Benedict calls on us to be counter-cultural to place others before ourselves, dare I say to even do something that is against what I want to do or what I feel the need to do. We have all been in the situation where we had plans for the day, a day to finally get things accomplished and then that one person comes and seeks your help or requests a favor and our own plans get pushed aside. The little voice inside is saying “I really need to get this done, can’t this person just wait?,” but in the spirit of letting go of self-will we fight that desire to just do what we want to do, and we are instead there for another human being. If you live in a religious community you will learn early on something always comes up just when you sit down to get something done, but you also know that someone will sacrifice their own time for you even if it’s just because you needed to talk with someone.

The third and fourth steps of humility have to do with obedience in that one surrenders him or herself for the love of God. Saint Benedict means yes, that we need to obey our superiors if we are in a religious community, but he also means to obey the others around you whom are your brothers and sisters in Christ. Especially, in our culture today where we need to be i
ndependent for survival it’s hard sometimes to listen and obey maybe your parents at home, or your boss at your job. When every fiber of your being is telling you to challenge authority Saint Benedict is telling us to silence that stirring feeling inside and to accept what comes to us. How on earth do we accomplish that when all we want to do is argue and perhaps even storm off in a fury away from the problem? We try our best to maintain our inner peace by offering up what we can to the Lord. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux always comes to mind for me when I think of how she must have felt when her superior blamed her for breaking the vase and instead of arguing against her Saint Thérèse instead dropped to her knees and begged forgiveness. I find obedience to be the most challenging because I want to believe that my way is the only way and I know what is best for me, but sometimes we need to leave that up to God because He always comes through for us and knows what is best even if we don’t see it at the time. Plus if you’re in a religious community I had found that you get soft, gentle reminders from your sisters or brothers every once in a while.

The fifth step of humility involves putting one’s faith and confidence in the Lord in order to maintain a humbled heart. How do we maintain a humbled heart when at times our whole world seems upset? How can we always remember to keep our faith and confidence in the Lord first? The sacrament of Confession comes to mind when we are able to finally let go of the burdens that we hold in the depth of our hearts and seek forgiveness. I remember once listening to a talk by Father Luke Fletcher of the Franciscan Friars and he told us “When you walk out of that confessional you are forgiven, you need to believe you are forgiven. If you don’t believe you are forgiven then you are not putting your faith in God and into the Sacrament.” Saint Benedict could not have his monks walking around carrying all of these burdens because how could they function as a community if they were holding everything inside and not embracing God’s mercy on them?

The sixth step of humility involves one keeping him or herself in the “last place” to increase closeness to God and the seventh degree of humility is when the individual places the value of others before him or herself and maintains a humbled state. These two degrees of humility are a little hard to dissect because if we think too much about being humble and have the goal of being the lowly one whether it be in a religious community or maybe within a family or group of friends then we are not actually moving onto the sixth and seventh steps of humility. Saint Benedict stresses that we must feel in our hearts a level of humbleness that is much more than stating in word that we believe that we are more inferior to another or that we have less value. Saint Benedict does not mean that we should walk around feeling as if we are less than a person, but we need to have an awareness that the world does not revolve around us and we must accept this humbled state. Father Michael Casey, in his Guide to Living in the Truth, emphasizes how it is important, especially in the twenty-first century, to  understand that yes, we have gifts, but we also have limitations, and we need to be content with ourselves without trying to rival others or become envious of others. When the world is constantly telling us majority of the times through media that we need to have more and we should want the very best of everything and that we should be more important than the person next to us Saint Benedict argues against what has become such a cultural norm. Especially in religious life monks and nun should not have the best of everything and need to live lives of simplicity in order to clear our minds and hearts to be filled with the love of God. Whether you live within the walls of a monastery with your religious sisters or brothers or in a house or apartment with your family do we need “things” to give us more value as the children of God? Does God love us any less because we don’t have lots of “things?” Pope Francis comes to mind when I think of the sixth and seventh step of humility when soon after becoming Pope he rejected the Papal car, rode back to St. Martha’s guesthouse on the bus with other Cardinals, and even went back to pay his hotel bill.
The eighth step of humility is the ability to carry out what is “good” for the sake of others. For Benedictine monks and religious sisters this means using the Rule as a guide to be able to carry out the gospel values in the twenty-first century. Monks and nuns maintain a rhythm of the monastic life by praying the official prayer of the church, the Liturgy of the Hours or what they refer to as the Divine Office. They pray each day together in community for one another as well as for the sisters and brothers in Christ that do not reside at
the monastery with them. How do those not in religious life carry out what is “good” for the sake of others? There are some who attend daily mass, pray the divine office on her or his own, take part in parish ministries, and other charitable works. We want as Christians to illustrate God’s love in both our words and deed.

The ninth degree of humility requires one to submit to silence in order to be able to listen to others and the tenth step of humility requires that one does not place him or herself as the center of attention. The eleventh degree of humility calls for one to not place him or herself before others in speech, and the twelfth degree of humility is that he or she must always remember that God is in one’s center and to remain in a humbled state. I think by his last four degrees of humility Saint Benedict is really trying to drive the message home here by shouting through his silent words, "The world does not revolve around you, get used to it". Especially, when I was in a religious community I learned that we all understood that we have imperfections and as sinners we know that God has compassion for us and in turn we need to have compassion for one another by way of mutual obedience. Now how can all of this be pieced together to develop an understanding of humility?

Humility is not a quality that one can develop overnight and is not something that can ever be brought to perfection in a lifetime. It is throughout the lifetime of a monk or nun or the everyday man or woman that one can perform small acts and demonstrate certain behaviors that lead one to not only have more humility, but to also attain a deeper understanding of it. Mother Teresa once said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." One must be cautioned though that once the focus becomes on humility then the individual is no longer increasing in humility and as a result is shifting the focus back to self, a concept which was well understood by Father Thomas Merton. Humility must be attained not on the conscious level, but on a level of which one does not even realize he or she is moving up the ladder of humility. Father Benedict Groeschel, the founder of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, believed that religious men and women need to set themselves free from the control of the self and become open to the needs of others and by being of service to them as a part of their spiritual journey. An attitude of embracing that everything in life is only about me and adopting certain secular ways and values acts as a constraint or vice preventing an individual from climbing the ladder to move up the steps of humility. When someone makes him or herself of the utmost importance and neglects the needs of others and lacks concern for others then God is no longer at the center, but one is placing him or herself at the center. The acts of faith, hope, and charity are pushed aside and the will of the individual is placed before the will of God. Saint Benedict understood that the love of Jesus Christ must be present in oneself in order to serve the Lord, and in order to have Christ at one’s center one must have the ability to diminish the value of oneself. An individual can learn to lessen him or herself by enduring “suffering” or sharing in the Passion of Christ; sharing his cross.

The only means by which to obtain humility is to let go of pride, which can be translated as making the center of oneself to become love, which means placing God at the center. Letting go of pride can be deemed as “suffering” because it is human nature to have the desire to partake in actions that prevent God from being at the center of oneself. According to Father Thomas Merton in his 12 Degrees of Humility The reality is that humility can only be achieved by placing him or herself in the “last place,” which must be carried out on the unconscious level because purposely placing oneself in the “last place” by means of the conscious state does not lead an individual to succeed in obtaining humility because it causes one to gain pride. Father Michael Casey says that an increase in pride pushes the individual to have to descend on the ladder of humility, which ultimately results in less humility. The only means by which an individual can lessen oneself and climb the ladder of humility is by relinquishing control of self-will, which allows one to become more intimate with God and maintain the role of being a follower of Christ in the world.

In today’s world it is easy to become distracted by his or her surroundings that which results in certain priorities that increase the level of value of oneself and diminishes the importance of others and decreases their value. One must keep in mind that he or she is not the center of the universe because it is God that is the center of the Universe. No one understands this better than the Father of Monasticism, Saint Benedict himself. There are days we need to look at ourselves and firmly say, “I am not God, so therefore I am not in control”! And if we do not remind ourselves I can say with certainty that God will remind us. For me that reminder came one day when I was volunteering with a local community organization and there staring at me was a poster on the wall that read, “Relax, God is in control.” It is not easy to relinquish the power to control every aspect of one’s life, but it is when an individual faces the reality that God is actually in control that he or she can reach the conscious state of humbleness in God’s presence, which is the ultimate objective of Christian humility. “Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!” (RSV 46:10)

1 comment:

  1. Hello Christina. I am a Pastor from Mumbai, India. I am glad to stop by your profile on the blogger and the blog post. I am blessed and feel privileged and honoured to get connected with you as well as know you and about your conviction to take Benedictine vows of obedience. Your post on Christian Humility. The way of Saint Benedict. I am blessed and humbled by your post. I respect the saints who have gone before us and followed the role model of Jesus in their living. I am impressed by your devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. I am also blessed and feel privileged and honoured to get connected with you as well as know you and about you. I love getting connected with the people of God irrespective of their denominational background to be encouraged, strengthened and praying for one another. I have always worked with the other churches. I have been in the Pastoral ministry for last 38 yrs in this great city of Mumbai a city with a great contrast where richest of rich and the poorest of poor live.We reachout to the poorest of poor with the love of Christ to bring healing to the brokenhearted. we also encourage young and the adults from the west to come to Mumbai to work with us during their vacation time. We would love to have you come to Mumbai with your friends to work with us during your vacation time. I am sure you will have a life changing experience. Looking forward to hear from you. My email id is: dhwankhede(at)gmail(dot)com and my name is Diwakar Wankhede. God's richest blessings on you, your family and friends.