Friday, November 18, 2016

Humility in the twelfth degree

The twelfth degree of humility is that a monk not only have humility in his heart but also by his very appearance make it always manifest to those who see him. That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed and his eyes toward the ground. Feeling the guilt of his sins at every moment, he should consider himself already present at the dread Judgment and constantly say in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with his eyes fixed on the earth: Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven; and again with the Prophet: I am bowed down and humbled everywhere.
In short, St Benedict tells us to live our humility visibly. This is not an ostentatious humility, for Our Lord warns us against such behaviour.
...when ye fast , be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast . Verily I say unto you *, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast , but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt , and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt , and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is , there will your heart be also. (St Matthew vi.16-21)
An ostentatious humility is a false humility borne on the wings of wanting to appear impressive in our humility to others. Our Lord bids us receive humility as a treasure, something to be cherished and cultivated. As we have seen throughout this adventure through Chapter Seven of the Rule, Humility is about what is real, authentic, and true about ourselves. We are to love ourselves and we do so by cultivating humility for then we accept ourselves for who we are.

St Benedict bids our humility break out from our heart and into our lives. For the monk, this means keeping the head bowed before God - all the monks are to do that, so it will not be seen as ostentatious in a monastery. All those who behold the monks should be able to recognise the source of their humility. For those of us in the secular sphere, we have to ensure that our humility is lived out in our lives in such a way as to point away from ourselves and towards the God who loves us. We are still to feel the guilt of our sin, and to examine our consciences critically and severely. Repentance is obligatory for the Christian life. People need to see that repentance, that acknowledgement of sin, and find in that sight the fact that repentance leads to God.

If there is no love of God in our aspect, then the Light of Christ will not shine through us. This is why an ostentatious humility is an oxymoron. Humility bids us focus on our humanity so that we become receptive vessels for God's Divinity and Love.

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