Saturday, June 07, 2008

Humility Step 8

Three times each year we read through the Rule as a community; three times a year we read through everyone's favorite chapter: On Humility (RB 7).

Yesterday's eighth step reads as follows:
"The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by his superiors. [my emphasis]"

Elsewhere in the Rule, Saint Benedict writes "This Rule is only a beginning of perfection [RB 73]." Indeed, any rule or law can only be a beginning. The law cannot make us righteous; on the other hand, we do not abolish the law by insisting that we go beyond it. Rather, "love fulfills the law," to use St. Paul's phrase.

Following the letter of the Rule can become self-justifiying. St. Bernard, in his Steps of Pride points out that the beginnings of pride come when we watch other brothers in order to compare ourselves--favorably--with their observance. Fr. Thomas Keating makes a similar observation in the opening chapters of Invitation to Love, where he relates his own experience as a novice of encountering someone who had more zeal for monastic observance.

In the eighth step of humility, we are bidden not merely to observe the rule in all its particulars--I mean to insist that this is necessary--but above the letter of the law is its spirit embodied by the seniors of the community, who understand that the Rule was written to serve monks; monks do not serve the Rule. This is much more difficult than it sounds because it requires us to engage in a relationship. Often times younger monks look critically at seniors, who seem on their judgment to have 'less zeal'. In fact, the zeal that the seniors have is often one that has been tempered and channeled by the demands of long term loving relationships. And so the Rule might get bent a bit, but this is the genius of Benedict's Rule: it bends but does not break, and, like a good abbot, adapts itself to all kinds of characters within the monastery.

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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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