As an essential part of our monastic renewal, we’ve been considering St. Benedict’s teaching on humility. He dedicates all of Chapter 7, the longest chapter of the Rule, to humility and his teaching on the subjects is found in his entire Rule. I believe this virtue is essential to our life together.
How can I presume that I am making any progress in fraternal charity if I am not deepening in personal humility? Everything in the Rule describes the brothers relating to each other and interacting together in the spirit of humility. What St. Benedict says of the necessary good zeal for living this life could equally be said of humility. I simply can’t offer charity to anyone else when I am imprisoned by self-love and self-seeking. To the degree that self-love and self-seeking are weakened and replaced by compassion for those who live with me, to that degree would I be deepening in humility.
In his treatise on The Steps of Humility and Pride, our St. Bernard begins by addressing the need for truth before any other consideration. Can you see where this is going? Concretely the truth about myself–no self deception and the realization that the fellow next to me could be in the same boat–can lead me to to think of another more than myself. That is compassion which generates solidarity as understanding the worth of the other person; this is a glimpse of how God views us–not just me but all of us. When I am self-absorbed, I cannot see that worth, only the inconvenience someone else might be to me. Only when I get beyond that perspective, Bernard insists, am I capable of any growth in the contemplative life. But when I am absorbed in myself, I cannot avoid idolatry, which is the consequence of deceiving myself. I would see myself as the ultimate importance in my life and I create a god in my own likeness.
Humility, by contrast, is grounded in truth; truth about God, truth about my neighbor, truth about myself. If I have no charity for my neighbor, I have no real love for God in me. If I have no understanding and concern for the person next to me, I have no capacity for contemplating God; nor am I leaving room for God to reveal himself to me. I’d rather leave all the room for me and see myself as central. I can’t make room for another, offer real concern to anyone other than myself, as long as I refuse to see myself as God sees me. And God’s view may, by the way, coincide with the way the guy next to me sees me. If only I would listen to him! When I listen only to myself, assured that I am so right, I am guilty of the worst idolatry.
We have made some changes in the physical aspects of our life together, necessary changes reflecting the changed profile of our community. But that’s just a start; none of that can change what is going on inside of me. I need to change in my attitudes, my knowledge of myself, my understanding of my brothers, my openess to God’s movement in my life, all leading me to surrender myself to God who is my true life. This is why we’re exploring the St. Benedict’s wisdom, his teaching about conversion to humility in mind and heart and behavior to the brother next to me. I believe this will lead us to that kind of life that would make people say, “See how they love one another.” And they would want to share this life. I believe this is St. Benedict’s vision offered to us.
How do you read the Rule we have professed to live by? Will you allow the Rule to change you or not?
from a Chapter Talk of Abbot Robert