I began these reflections on humility exploring what the Fear of the Lord is and what it isn’t. In essence that is the First Step of Humility that St. Benedict mentions in Chapter Seven of his Rule. Today I’d like to introduce the Biblical image of the Shekinah, the overshadowing presence of God. In the Lenten Readings for Vigils, we recalled the Pillar of Cloud that led the Israelites by day and the Pillar of Fire that protected them by night. As you recall, when the cloud halted, then they stopped and pitched camp; and after they built their tent shrine, or Tabernacle, when they would rest, God’s presence as that Pillar of Cloud, filled their sanctuary. That is the image of the Shekinah which also filled the Temple in Jerusalem when Solomon dedicated it. In the Gospel of St. Luke, that same Shekinah overshadows Mary at the Annunciation awakening new life, God’s incarnate Son, in her womb.
This is the glory of God and his indwelling presence; aware of it, we are disposed to conform our will to God’s will, submit our will to God’s plan. That is the Second Step of Humility according to St. Benedict. The Third Step is obedience to another person for the sake of the love of God, imitating the Lord Jesus who was obedient to the Father. In this obedience the Fourth Step of Humility spells out at length what this imitation of the Lord entails and costs me. It is no more than what we can read in the Gospel, but here in the Rule and gathered in one paragraph, it leaves no room for compromise or denial. Either I act that way or I don’t! There we read: Scripture says in the person of the suffering, “For your sake we are put to death all day long; we are considered as sheep marked for the slaughter.” Then secure in their hope of a divine recompense, they go on with joy to declare, “But in all these things we conquer, through Him who has granted us his love.” Again in another place the Scripture says, “You have tested us, O God; you have tried us as silver is tried, by fire; you have brought us into a snare; you have laid affliction on our back.” And to show that we ought to be under a superior it goes on to say, “You have set men over our heads.” Moreover, by their patience those faithful ones fulfil the Lord’s command in adversities and injuries: when struck on one cheek, they offer the other; when deprived of their tunic, they surrender also their cloak; when forced to go a mile, they go two.
Beside the Gospel command, St. Benedict quotes the example of another God-fearing disciple, St. Paul: with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren and bless those who curse them. And on it goes, step after step illustrating yet another aspect of the expression of humility. Both Benedict and the Rule of the Master before him, drew teaching from John Cassian in his Institutes of the Cenobium in the Fourth Book on the Renunciants. Cassian describes the ways in which humility is verified. He doesn’t present monastic humility in any progressive order but rather various aspects of humility which make its practice manifest. And that’s actually how I see St. Benedict teaching, despite the image of the ladder that he uses. These manifestations are no more than the teaching of Jesus Christ, than following him in discipleship. Our Father St. Benedict simply puts all that in a monastic context for us who have embraced this call from God.
from a Chapter Talk of Abbot Robert