Friday, October 12, 2007

Humility Step One: Living in God's Presence

In my introduction to St. Benedict's Ladder of Humility, I mentioned that this chapter is primarily a descriptive diagnostic tool. Thus, when St. Benedict writes, "The first step of humility, then, is that a monk, placing the fear of God always before his eyes, flees all forgetfulness," we should ask ourselves whether we do this. For most of us, the answer will be 'no'. The question, as I've set it up, is this: "If we can't accomplish this mindfulness by human effort, then what exactly are we supposed to learn from this teaching?"

First of all, we should in fact strive to keep the fear of God before our eyes. This means in particular, not simply giving in to sin and then saying, "Well, I can't help it; I'm pretty good in other areas, so God will give me a pass here." This would indicate selective forgetfulness. However, in insisting that we also cannot simply will ourselves into mindfulness, I mean to emphasize that God is merciful and forgiving, and therefore we should not act as did Adam and Eve and hide when we screw up. If we find that we are mired in a particular sin and cannot extricate ourselves, this is an invitation to humility; we must seek help: from God, from the prayers and advice of others, from mortification. If, on our own, we could place the fear of God before our eyes, we probably would not be doing that at all, but instead placing some kind of idol before our eyes, a false god who tells us that we are capable of saving ourselves by being good.

The forgetfulness that St. Benedict is concerned with avoiding is not remedied by imagining God as the Bad Cop, following us around and pointing out our faults. Rather, it involves a deliberate choice to hear God's life-giving Word and God's commandments and conform our lives to them. This can only be done by taking time to become familiar with God's commands, or in many cases, to re-familiarize ourselves with them. We are apt to forget, for example, that Jesus says over and over again, "Do not be afraid. I AM." We are apt to forget just how merciful our Savior is, and by reading John 4 or Luke 6 or the parable of the Prodigal Son, we call to mind just how true it is that God is Love and that the Word of God came into the world to save sinners and not the righteous. These words should roll off of our tongues--they are so full of joy and hope!

But we live in hectic times and so often I hear it said, "I try to pray, but I just don't have time." I submit that St. Benedict's first step addresses this concern. Is everything that we do in our busy lives totally necessary, or are there places where we 'make work' in order to feel important or needed? "I intend to remember God...tomorrow!" Are we afraid of what we will encounter when we sit face to face with God and bare our souls? "Be not afraid!" Just as we create false gods out of our experiences of abusive authority, we create false selves out of expectations, both our own and others'. The essence of pride is to attempt to create a self other than what we are. Humility comes with accepting ourselves, warts and all, and trusting God's grace to fashion us into the persons He intends us to be, rather than the persons we might think we prefer to be. God's plans for us are infinitely greater than what we can dream up. Trust Him!


Anonymous said...

Hey, relax, everything that *I* at least remember reading hasn't gone against the teaching of the Church. I've been journeying with you and like your commentary on the scenery. Deo gratias. :)

Anonymous said...

I've been edified by your comments, Deo gratias. I do hope some strident voices haven't been grating at you. I find your comments well within the teachings of the One, True Church.
Cheers. :)


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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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