Considering Benedictine devotion and conversion in everyday life, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Humility in the Manger
A humble man can do great things with an uncommon perfection because he is no longer concerned about incidentals, like his own interests and his own reputation, and therefore he no longer needs to waste his efforts in defending them.
For a humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God, before Whom no other power has any meaning and for whom there is no such thing as an obstacle.
Humility is the surest sign of strength.
Thomas Merton, Humility Against Despair, in New Seeds of Contemplation
Sunday, December 12, 2004
Humility in Pain
My posts have been less frequent lately, because I’ve not been feeling so well. The migraines have been ratcheting up and not completely subsiding in between, leaving me with significant pain every day. I hate not posting regularly. It’s a discipline I have come to treasure. But in this Advent, I have continued to meditate on humility, even in my time off-line.
Pain is a great teacher of humility, and chronic pain is a live-in tutor. It has a way of grinding down my illusions about myself. In periods when I have felt relatively well, I have considered myself to be patient, attractive, and generous. When I am in significant pain for a long period of time, my illusions of personality wear down like the seat of my old jeans, to something threadbare and embarrassingly transparent. I begin show those parts of myself that are impatient, querulous, and selfish. It feels like lifting a hundred pounds with one arm, to reach out to other people when that pain, even if it’s not excruciating, eats at me day after day.
When pain causes me to see myself that way, it scares me, too. I don’t like the truth. I often don’t like myself. Often I’ll withdraw from others. I’m afraid I’ll snap at them, or that they’ll see the unattractive, unfriendly, grouchy me and not like me, either. The isolation just makes me more miserable. The tension builds, and so does the pain. I pray, but even powerful, effective prayer is no quick fix. Waiting on the Lord is hard.
Yes, it’s all very humbling.
That’s the difficult, but very good news about pain. Because it humbles me, it brings me “down to earth.” And earth is where God is with us, in His blessed incarnation. Once reserved in His heaven, God has joined me, and you, here in our painful, earthly states. So the more we are humbled, whether by pain or grief or poverty, the more He joins us in the flesh, on this earth.
Maybe for some people that is an abstraction, but for me nothing could be more genuine because pain is real. It breaks my body and almost breaks my heart. I couldn’t face another day or long night bearing it--not without a down-to-earth Savior who was born into pain and died through it into eternal life. Not without a Savior who promised to be with us always.
Because even more than misery does, humility loves His company.
Friday, December 10, 2004
Humility, the Third Degree
“The third degree of humility is that a person
for love of God
submit himself to his Superior in all obedience,
imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says,
‘He became obedient even unto death.’”
Rule of Benedict, Chapter Seven, On Humility
“Christ: ‘I have often told you, and I repeat it again;
forsake yourself and renounce yourself,
and you shall enjoy great interior peace.
Give all for all; seek nothing;
take nothing back that you have given up;
stand with pure detachment and with full confidence in Me,
and then you shall truly possess Me.
Then you shall enjoy true freedom of heart
and darkness shall not overcome you.
Aim at that alone.
Pray for it, desire it, that you may be divested of all self-seeking;
and so, spiritually naked, follow the naked Jesus.
Thus you will die to yourself and live forever to and for me.’”
The Imitation of Christ, Chapter 37, Thomas à Kempis
Monday, December 06, 2004
The Kingdom of the Child
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.
"During this hour, I tried to meditate on the Lord's Passion. But my soul was filled with joy, and suddenly I saw the Child Jesus. But His majesty penetrated me to such an extent that I said, 'Jesus, You are so little, and yet I know that you are my Creator and Lord.' And Jesus answered me, 'I am and I keep company with you as a child to teach you humility and simplicity.' (184) Divine Mercy Diary, Sister Faustina
Saturday, December 04, 2004
A Rare Virtue for Advent
Of all the virtues to contemplate, I feel that I have been called to humility this Advent, both personally and as a topic for my blog. It's a slippery one, too, and so dreadfully out of fashion in our culture. Short of an accidental play of that bad '70s tune, "Lord, it's hard to be humble, when you're perfect in every way," on a rare oldies or country station, the virtue of humility gets "virtually" no billing whatsoever today in our pop culture.
People still like to talk about random acts of kindness, the value of charity, the power of philanthropy, and even the potential for holiness. But what about humility?
Even as I try to write about humility, something in me wants to rant about its antithesis, pride. Pride is far more glamorous. I can think of many more examples. As they say, "Don't get me started." But humility, well, that's harder. Harder to find and harder to live.
The Rule of Benedict has extensive direction about humility, so I began there. But other saints have much to say about it, too. Of course, my heart is drawn to Our Lady, the humble receiver of the Word, as a model for my faith in this Advent journey to the stable, the most humble of birthing beds.
Of all the virtues, humility is my vocation this season. If it is yours, you are welcome to walk with me. I warn you, it's a lonely, lowly walk, and not well-lit. There are many distractions. We'll be tempted to judge and preen and gossip and shop for bargains and brag and rant about all manner of societal ills, I'll wager, because the Evil One won't like us thinking small and lowly thoughts about ourselves. But we'll pray to the little Child Jesus in the manger, and ask our Blessed Mother to pray for us, too.
"Then I saw myself ... together with the Mother of God....She was so peaceful and so united to the will of God...When I was left alone with the Blessed Virgin, She instructed me concerning the interior life. The soul's true greatness is in loving God and in humbling oneself in His presence, completely forgetting oneself and believing oneself to be nothing; because the Lord is great, but He is well-pleased only with the humble; He always opposes the proud." (1710-11) Divine Mercy Diary, Sister Faustina
Friday, December 03, 2004
A Humble Heart Rises
O how beautiful is a humble soul! From her heart, as from a censer, rises a varied and most pleasing fragrance which breaks through the skies and reaches God himself, filling His Most Sacred Heart with joy. God refuses nothing to such a soul; she is all powerful and influences the destiny of the whole world... (1306)
Divine Mercy Diary
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Humility, Step Two
The second degree of humility
is that a person love not his own will
nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires,
but model his actions on the saying of the Lord,
"I have come not to do My own will,
but the will of Him who sent Me" (John 6:38).
It is written also,
"Self-will has its punishment,
but constraint wins a crown."
Rule of Benedict, Chapter 7, On Humility