Tuesday, March 28, 2006

He humbled himself and became obedient

"In humility count others better than yourself."
Philippians 2:3

I have moved to lectio divina on Paul's letter to the Philippians, taking a detour from Isaiah for the time being.
This admontion happens to be Saint Benedict's seventh step of humility. Most commentators I've heard speak on the Rule consider this and step four (obedience under difficult or unjust circumstances) to be the most trying steps, even if they are not the most advanced.

This one rubs us wrong at some points because we fear that a total lack of self-esteem would paralyze us. If we really think everyone else is better than we are, why would we attempt anything? Who would take a risk, dream dreams or aim at heroic virtue when all the while he thinks of himself as a worm and no man?

The key is the picture of Jesus Christ given immediately afterward in Paul's letter (and quoted in the title here): Christ is the greatest, not because He is the most intelligent, most daring, or most imaginative man ever to live (this is not to say that He was not these things). Rather, Jesus Christ is great because He is obedient and therefore acts with the power of Almighty God. The monk who, through the difficult toil of obedience in steps three and four, and the guileless manifestation of thoughts in step five, has come to the realization that he is entirely dependent upon God, is finally freed to be truly bold, truly heroic, precisely because he is Christ-like in his dependence on God.

The saints bear this out: no one could accuse Mother Theresa of lacking courage or vision. Yet she took no credit, asserting rather that she was God's pencil. Blessed Andre of the St. Joseph Oratory in Quebec was similar. An unlettered man who managed to build an astoundingly beautiful shrine to the foster-father of our Lord, he regarded himself as God's faithful pet dog. St. John Vianney flunked out of seminary twice and when finally he was ordained, was shipped to the boonies at Ars. Yet by his faithful practice of the work of a parish priest, he astounded people with his wisdom and imagination. All of them were simply able to recognize the truth that 'no one may boast, save in the gospel of God'.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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Origen of Alexandria
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