The sixth degree of humility is that a monk be content with the poorest and worst of everything, and that in every occupation assigned him he consider himself a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet, "I am brought to nothing and I am without understanding; I have become as a beast of burden before You, and I am always with You".
In an age in which we are encouraged to be self-affirming and self-confident in order to find peace with ourselves, St Benedict’s words seem to be severe and negative of our existence. He even seems to contradict Our Lord’s teaching that we are worth more than many sparrows. Does St Benedict really mean that we should berate ourselves, demean ourselves, wallow in a pit of being “ever so ‘umble” like the great hypocrite Uriah Heap?
Not at all, and it is misreading this verse that leads us to the idea that Humility is a constant doing ourselves down. It is not true, for this leads us to a greater pride of believing that God is wrong to love us and create us as He has.
What is St Benedict saying? What is worthless but that which has no worth attributed to it? If we attribute our own sense of worth to our actions and possessions, then we fail to see the truth of the blindness of our sight, and the fallibility of our own estimation. St Benedict challenges our whole value system of attributing worth and importance to things. It’s this that we need to shed in order to find God, for it is God that makes things truly worthy. We are to cultivate that sense of God’s worth. He does not see that worth in chasubles or chalices, but sees only the dedication that their makers have in making things beautiful for Him. He will spurn the chasuble and chalice of a heart dedicated only to “doing things right” in favour of a dirty old surplice and a tin mug of a heart in poverty, yet even seeking the Real Presence of Christ with intensity and passion.
In the Humility of losing the worth defined by the world, we gain the worth that is defined by pure Love. We know that new worth to be topsy-turvy, upending even the ladder of Humility so that ascending this ladder we end up with our feet on the ground of Truth rather than in the air of our own devices and desires.
If we take pleasure in something that we do, then let it be because we have sought God’s good pleasure first and bask in His mercy in bringing our task to its end. If we find nothing disappointment in what we do, then this is a good thing as it will teach us to find Worth where it resides more truly – in the Sacred Heart of Our Lord.