Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Thoughts on Humility

As the nation debates the fate of one woman's life, I thought we could use some readings on humility. Once again borrowing from Devotional Classics:

Christianity became the official state religion early in the fourth century, and with this new status began an unfortunate secularization of the Church. When the Christian faith was mixed with the Roman world, the world did not become Christian so much as Christians became worldly. In reaction, many earnest Christians fled to the desert and ultimately to monasteries and convents as a way of escaping the world and living a faithful life. (In time, of course, even these monasteries declined and were in need of renewal.) Into this climate Benedict of Nursia arose to bring new life to the Christian world.

Born into a good family in the Umbrian village of Nursia and educated at Rome, Benedict grew weary of the evils of the city and fled to the mountains of Subiaco to live as a hermit. He became well known for his piety, his wis¬dom, and his humility. In A.D. 529 he founded a monastery on Monte Cassino, midway between Naples and Rome, and he remained there until his death.

In this monastery Benedict wrote his famous Rule, which provided a much needed accountability to the many roving prophets and hermits of the day. In The Rule Benedict gives clear, direct, and effective disciplines for liv¬ing a holy life. His writings inspired an important period of renewal and are still with us today because of their wisdom and insight.

The following passage deals with the subject of humility. Using the metaphor of ?Jacob?s ladder,? Benedict discusses twelve steps of humility. The modern reader may find it hard to hear his austere teaching about the reality of hell and the sinfulness of humankind, but in an age of ?feel good? spirituality, we need his words.


The Call to Ascend the Ladder of Humility

Friends, the Holy Scriptures cry out to us say¬ing, ?Everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.? Therefore, they show us that every exaltation of ourselves is a kind of pride. The Psalmist declares that he guarded against this, saying, ?Lord, my heart is not puffed up; nor are my eyes haughty. Neither have I walked in great matters nor in things above me.?

Humility as a Way of Life

If we ascend all of these steps of humility, we shall arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casts out all fear. If we persist in observ¬ing them, we will begin to keep them without any effort. In time it will no longer be a force of habit, but a way of life. Though we may begin them with a fear of hell, we will begin living them out of a love for Christ, developing habits of good, and taking pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by his Holy Spirit in you, his laborer, now cleansed from vice and sin.


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