I have been considering humility in the Rule of St. Benedict and have been locating it in the Holy Scriptures. Today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family whom we find described in Scripture. But the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus exist in their own right and as multi-dimensional human beings, exhibiting so much of what we mean by monastic humility. There’s no getting away from it: humility is obscure, as obscure as life in Nazareth. Think of it: we know the names of no one else from Nazareth; had we not been raised Christians we might never note the existence of Nazareth. It would be another place name we forgot from reported conflicts between the Israeli army and Palestinian civilians. Humility is obscure. Humility is humble. For most people, humility is so boring.
If we look at the news media, there’s no place for what’s boring; even less for humility. At one time, whatever Pope Benedict XVI wore made the news, let alone what he said. When was the last time you heard him mentioned? Now that he’s retired to a relatively solitary life of prayer he’s no longer interesting as a news item. He’s become boring. I don’t know whether that bothers him or not; perhaps the change has deepened his humility but that makes for boring news. At the moment Pope Francis is “hot” and enough cannot be written about him. As such, we find a striking image, a contrast: Pope Francis on magazine covers, only incidentally, from the point of view of the Press, changing the face of the Church, and retired Pope Benedict, unseen, praying for the Church.
We can sense that both men appreciate one another, different as they are, but this does not impress the media. One is news, the other is not. One fits our world’s sense of success, the other does not.
But how dependable is the world’s sense of success? What do we see in the life of Jesus? We could see a widow who contributed two small copper coins to the Temple. What could that achieve? We might see a lad with two loaves and several fish approach Jesus, needing to feed an enormous crowd. What good are they? We see a centurion, part of the occupying army, asking Jesus to cure his servant–but he need not come into his ritually “unclean” housing–he can just say the word. What sort of loser is that? Connected to the most powerful government in his word, he resorts to the help of a native holy man in a miserable little country. What good could come from that corner?
But Jesus sees this all differently: the woman, a poor widow, gives generously because she gives from the little she has to live on. What meager food the boy supplies becomes the stuff of a miracle. And as to this centurion, this pagan, Jesus commends him for a faith deeper than his own people’s. Jesus does not read the situations in terms of success or what’s interesting or what’s “hot”. Nothing is too humble or insignificant or boring for his notice. And he looks beyond the surface. As such he is capable of the redemptive suffering and death he will undergo. It doesn’t matter to him that his memory could be obliterated by his death. What is more important is that he trusts God.
Consider Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant; consider just one of the three “Servant Songs”. Take some time to read Isaiah 52: 13 and the verses following. Perhaps, in that text, we can all learn something about what is important, something of the importance of humility.
from Abbot Robert’s Chapter Talk, 29 December, 2013