When we celebrated Holy Thursday, I believe that we reached the culmination of the meaning of humility in the life of the monk. The Rule’s teaching on humility reflects Gospel humility and that, of course, is best found in the example of Jesus Christ. The Holy Thursday’s liturgy crystalizes his humility in the Gospel and action of the washing of the disciples’ feet. St. Paul puts it this way: your attitude must be that of Christ. He did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself…
Is that my attitude? Even though I’m no divinity, is that my attitude? Is that what I do? Is that what I ask God to do for my attitude? Do I really believe in humility? How much do I want it? This is the ultimate acid test for an authentic monk–for a true Christian.
I have said before that the entire Rule of St. Benedict is imbued with humility, not just his Chapter Seven, On Humility. What are the Tools for Good Works in Chapter Four but expressions of humility? Go over them by yourself and see whether they speak of humility. I could be a revelation. Chapter Five on Obedience begins, The first step of humility is obedience without delay. Chapter Six, On Restraint of Speech, is an expression of humility: Am I willing to let the other person have the last word or do I need to, every time? Can I even help myself? In this, I am condemned by my own words; as Jesus said, it’s not what goes into the mouth that makes it unclean but what proceeds from the mouth, conveying what proceeds from the heart.
In Chapter Two, The Kind of Man the Abbot Ought To Be, St. Benedict advises that No one in the monastery is to be preferred over another, except we are found better than others in good works and humility; and he adds, only in this are we distinguished in God’s sight. This all adds up to taking St. Benedict seriously about humility and its necessity in our life. He did and we also need to.
Both our Cistercian Fathers and our current Constitutions underline that humility is the essential expression of a monk’s life. As such, they do nothing more than reflect the Gospel-call to be conformed to Christ. As Christ himself taught–and enacted–when he washed the apostles’ feet, no disciple is greater than the Master. To repeat, he emptied himself for our sake in his love for us. He gave us the one commandment to do as he did, serving each other without hesitation, in our love for one another. If I have no love for you, I cannot be humble. I must be humble to love anyone, and without that love and that humility, anything else I accomplish as a monk is a sham. Humility is inseparable from love and anything else is really a humiliation. Try reading St. Paul’s canticle to Charity in Chapter 13 of his First Letter to the Corinthians, substituting the word “humility” for his word, “charity.” I believe you will find that it really holds up and you may find the exercise enlightening.
The person who has real love is humble; a humble person has real love. The two are one reality viewed from two different perspectives. This is the genius of St. Benedict’s Rule: he is teaching us how to live the Gospel in everyday life. That means, he is teaching us how to live like Christ; how to live by the Holy Spirit. In such living there is no fireworks and little of moving mountains: just a simple, solid and basic care for one another, for the common good. That would create a community of men who care for one another–and what else is the Rule? Or the Gospel? Isn’t our foundation the Blessed Trinity itself, the very inner life of God? The loving life of humility in our lives is the Triune God living within each of us. This is the source of the good zeal, obedience and genuine affection sketched out by the Rule.
If the soil is good, the plant’s growth will be healthy. We have good soil here in this community. We can, indeed, help one another to grow: is this not the beginning of God’s Kingdom? We don’t need to make the reign of God harder than it is and the prerequisite humility needed to receive the coming Kingdom is really a question of being ourselves. It’s supposed to be natural: Leran from me for I am meek and humble of heart. And you will find rest for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.