Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Humility in the first degree

The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes and beware of ever forgetting it. Let him be ever mindful of all that God has commanded; let his thoughts constantly recur to the hell-fire which will burn for their sins those who despise God, and to the life everlasting which is prepared for those who fear Him. Let him keep himself at every moment from sins and vices, whether of the mind, the tongue, the hands, the feet, or the self-will, and check also the desires of the flesh. Let a man consider that God is always looking at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels. This is what the Prophet shows us when he represents God as ever present within our thoughts, in the words Searcher of minds and hearts is God and again in the words The Lord knows the thoughts of men. Again he says, You have read my thoughts from afar and The thoughts of people will confess to You.

In order that he may be careful about his wrongful thoughts, therefore, let the faithful brother say constantly in his heart, Then shall I be spotless before Him, if I have kept myself from my iniquity. As for self-will, we are forbidden to do our own will by the Scripture, which says to us, Turn away from your own will, and likewise by the prayer in which we ask God that His will be done in us. And rightly are we taught not to do our own will when we take heed to the warning of Scripture: There are ways which seem right, but the ends of them plunge into the depths of hell; and also when we tremble at what is said of the careless: They are corrupt and have become abominable in their will.

And as for the desires of the flesh, let us believe with the Prophet that God is ever present to us, when he says to the Lord, Every desire of mine is before You.

We must be on our guard, therefore, against evil desires, for death lies close by the gate of pleasure. Hence the Scripture gives this command: Go not after your concupiscences. So therefore, since the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the evil and the Lord is always looking down from heaven on the children of earth to see if there be anyone who understands and seeks God, and since our deeds are daily, day and night, reported to the Lord by the Angels assigned to us, we must constantly beware, brethren, as the Prophet says in the Psalm, lest at any time God see us falling into evil ways and becoming unprofitable; and lest, having spared us for the present because in His kindness He awaits our reformation, He say to us in the future, These things you did, and I held My peace. (The Rule cap vii)
How are we to understand this in the context of Our Lord being the union of God and Man, the union of Love and Humility? How can fear be associated either with Humility or Love? How can we entertain the reality of Hell with the nature of a loving God? This is the sticking point for many a person investigating the Christian Faith. We are told that God loves us and that if we don't love Him we will be sent to Hell. As Christians often say, we send ourselves to Hell by our own choice.

St Benedict charts this here. Our fear should be of losing that which we have been offered and given. We lose the precious gift that God gives us by treating it as something worthless, seeking our own way in life, preferring to attribute our own worth to things rather than to ascribe true worship to God.

The first degree of Humility is that of remembering precisely how fallen we are, and that by following our own agenda in life, we will quite literally walk away from God. Humility then requires us to recognise that we can fall from God and that we indeed will, should we not approach Him as He is, and recognising what we are. A man who has a precious jewel keeps it in a safe for fear that it be stolen from him. A man growing a rare orchid will tend it, feed it, waters it, for fear that it will die. A married couple take care to listen to each other, make compromises, love the other's weaknesses for fear of losing each other.

Likewise, we walk with God, recognising those things in ourselves which are obstacles to knowing Him and then working to give them up in His presence. Remember, we can begin nothing good without God being present from the beginning. We must therefore sit down in prayer, allow God to bring before us those things that separate us from Him, and pray earnestly for the resolve to reject them in our lives. It is a painful, fearful process as we see ourselves as we truly are.

Yet in Christ, humility is united with love. No matter how awful we think we are, no matter how ugly our sins, no matter how entrenched we are in the filth of our own depravity, we are not just lovable - we are loved! It is because of this love, that our humility will bear much fruit because it will unite us with Christ. We hear the sobering phrase Cave, Cave Deus videt (Beware, beware, God sees!) and we tremble because of our sinfulness. Submission to God, however, even in times of sin will make us ashamed and bring us back to our loving God. Stubborn pride will push us further away, further down the ladder, further down into The Pit!

It is good to be ashamed of our sins - it means we care what God thinks about us, and that care is a fragment of the love that we show Him. Our Humility will allow His Love to grow in us. That way, we can be like Him.

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