Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Reading for February 1, June 2, October 2

Chapter 7: On Humility

The fourth degree of humility
is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind
when in this obedience he meets with difficulties
and contradictions
and even any kind of injustice,
enduring all without growing weary or running away.
For the Scripture says,
"The one who perseveres to the end,
is the one who shall be saved" (Matt. 10:22);
and again
"Let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord" (Ps. 26:14)!

And to show how those who are faithful
ought to endure all things, however contrary, for the Lord,
the Scripture says in the person of the suffering,
"For Your sake we are put to death all the day long;
we are considered as sheep marked for slaughter" (Ps. 43:22; Rom. 8:36).
Then, secure in their hope of a divine recompense,
they go on with joy to declare,
"But in all these trials we conquer,
through Him who has granted us His love" (Rom. 8:37).
Again, in another place the Scripture says,
"You have tested us, O God;
You have tried us a silver is tried, by fire;
You have brought us into a snare;
You have laid afflictions on our back" (Matt. 5:39-41).
And to show that we ought to be under a Superior,
it goes on to say,
"You have set men over our heads" (Ps. 65:12).

Moreover, by their patience
those faithful ones fulfill 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;
with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren (2 Cor. 11:26)
and bless those who curse them (1 Cor. 4:12).

Some thoughts:

What exactly is this 4th degree of humility? What is your reaction to this?

When I first started reading the RB everyday and first read this selection, I was outraged. Keep silent when others put me down? Not say anything when I've been challenged? Worse yet, not to correct someone who has just said or done something wrong? Benedict says "yes, exactly that." Harrumph and who does this guy think he is telling an American not to stick up for herself. Life sure must have been different in the 6th century!

However, years later, I have a different reaction. For one thing, the nature of humanity is the same then as it is today: we are all sinners and if we are Christians, we are redeemed. The Roman Empire was falling apart; that which had provided order and stability was no longer able to do so. Good grief and gravy, one of the barbarian horde got himself crown Emperor of the west portion of the Empire during Benedict's life.

But above all what I am grateful for in this section of the Rule, if I could just keep it in mind, is the simplicity, the peace, the relief from having to defend myself. Just let the other guy have their say. Whatever they say doesn't change who I really am. Instead of engaging and telling the other person off, I am to go quietly along my way. Sure it's hard to learn to do that, and i can't say that I find it any easier with practice. My first reaction is still to leap into the fray. But when I do remember, it really is a load off my shoulders.

Commentary by Sr Joan Chittister

One thing about Benedict of Nursia: he is not is a romantic. It is so easy to say, "Let God be the center of your life; do God's will; see God's will in the will of others for you." It is outrageous to say, even under the best of conditions, that it will be easy. We cling to our own ways like snails to sea walls, inching along through life, hiding within ourselves, unconscious even of the nourishing power of the sea that is seeking to sweep us into wider worlds.

And all of that when the words that control us are good for us. What about when they are not? Benedict admits the situation. There are times when the words of those over us will not be good for us.

The fourth step on the spiritual ladder, Benedict says, is the ability to persevere, even in the face of downright contradiction because it is more right to be open to the Word of God through others and have our enterprises fail sometimes than to be our own guide and have things turn out right.

It is more right to be able to deal with the difficult things of life and grow from them than it is to have things work out well all the time and learn nothing from them at all.

This is the degree of humility that calls for emotional stability, for holding on when things do not go our way, for withstanding the storms of life rather than having to flail and flail against the wind and, as a result, lose the opportunity to control ourselves when there is nothing else in life that we can control.

To bear bad things, evil things, well is for Benedict a mark of humility, a mark of Christian maturity. It is a dour and difficult notion for the modern Christian to accept. The goal of the twentieth century is to cure all diseases, order all inefficiency, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas. We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot stomach delay. Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God is in the dregs of our lives. That's why it takes humility to find God where God is not expected to be.



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