Sunday, October 30, 2016

Humility in the seventh degree: a personal reflection

(Image from the BBC)

It's telling when one reflects on the teaching of St Benedict about humility and then events immediately give an answer.

It is heartbreaking for a little Benedictine Oblate (a not-very-good Benedictine Oblate) like me to see the Basilica of St Benedict levelled by an Earthquake. No monks were hurt, but there were injuries elsewhere. Thankfully, no-one has died.

I could start to see judgments that might apply. St Benedict is the patron saint of Europe, and that seems to be falling apart. Is this prophetic? Is this God's judgement on the Benedictine Order?

No. It just is the way God's world works.

It's what comes out of this that matters. As St Benedict says, semper incipiemus - always we begin again.

I reflected yesterday on the nature of learning about Humility through humiliations that happen to us. This certainly brings the monastic community of Norcia back to their holy founder, back to humility, back to Christ.

Recent disaster movies have had the world boiled, the White House blown up, the Royal Family frozen to death in Balmoral, London flooded. The fact of the matter is that none of our beautiful buildings or works of art, or even computer technology will last. At the end of the game, it's all got to go back in the box. Christ bids us detach ourselves from whatever we hold dear so that we cling only to that which does not perish - God Himself.

I know this personally, though not to the same degree as my poor, dear brothers in Norcia. I find myself having left beautiful buildings, gorgeous music, and many friends to join a tiny, unknown and truth-be-told unpopular little Church in my search for Our Lord's kingdom. Sometimes it does sting when I hear Bairstow's Blessed City Heavenly Salem sung and I'm not part of it.

In the U.K., the Anglican Catholic Church sits amid the ruins of Anglicanism which is falling apart quite clearly. In the entirety of our Diocese of the United Kingdom, there are not enough of us to fill an average parish church. There are precious few laity, though the ones we have are faithful, true, and know the score, supporting their clergy well. With the few laity we have, we clergy are truly blessed.

Do I really have the gall and audacity to compare my situation with those poor people in Italy? Ah, but I'm not making a comparison - I couldn't begin to think what these poor folk are going through! For the people of Norcia, and indeed all those who have suffered from the other Earthquakes in that region, especially the loss of life, they need our support, prayers, and tender loving care. The monks will need to rebuild, reflecting carefully on the situation and seeking the Humility in the opportunity given to them. I pray earnestly for them and will be looking to see how I can help. I am not comparing: I am trying to empathise and thus find as much solidarity that I can muster for my beloved brethren.

What about the ACC's humiliation? Are we learning humility from that? We should. We have an opportunity here to do something of great worth in God's sense of the word, not ours. We are tiny, and this means we have to strip ourselves of each and every piece of bombast, bluster, and superficiality. We can aspire to a Ritual-Notes-perfect High Mass, but must learn to be content with a small pewter chalice on a trestle-table. We need to approach people with honesty, trying to find ways of explaining our confusing name with people who don't really understand the difference. There is no magic formula that will bring people into our pews. There is no catch-all apologetic that will convince the unbeliever to see us as a true expression of the Church. There is but one thing.

We need to seek out and trust the will of God. Our faith only means anything if we put it into practice, for that is how we are to be justified in the eyes of God. Our personal quests for holiness mean quiet conversations with people who have questions over a cup of tea, visits to old folk's homes, offering a kind word. Because we are tiny, we must not despise tiny things, for it is in the tiny things done well that we begin to see Christ's work. This is not newsworthy stuff: we meet with God in the ordinary and commonplace. Indeed, we must seek God in the non-newsworthy stuff because, while we may have joyful occasions, that joy is only local, not a global thing. We can't be puffed up, because there is nothing to puff up, otherwise we just look ridiculous. We can build up with Love, and that means patience and long-suffering.

As I prepare for pastures new, leaving my old and dearly beloved parish for uncertainty, I see my own humiliation as I seek to be a priest with no building, no congregation, and no standing in my new community. The challenge is great, and I, like my confreres, must start small, supporting my beautiful little family, and seeking out little opportunities to put a happy smile on someone's face by being an instrument of God's blessing to them. I need your prayers, but beg that you would more readily pray for my Benedictine Confraternity of Norcia in their hour of need. If you then have a prayer left over, please spare one for me.

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