The End of All Our Striving: the Twelfth Degree of Humility

I was tempted to do no more than quote the text of St Benedict’s twelfth degree of humility, or refer you to previous posts on the subject, when I realised that it would be better to try to share some of the monastic experience of the Rule instead. Accordingly, I ask you first of all to listen to St Benedict’s words, as they are heard today in Benedictine monasteries throughout the world (not necessarily in this translation, of course):

Here we have St Benedict’s teaching on humility distilled into a little: it is the work of the Holy Spirit, leading us to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. Earlier, in chapter 1, Benedict had defined the ‘strong kind of monk’ as someone who ‘lives in a monastery and serves under a rule and abbot’. (cf RB 1.2, 1.13) We might call that the fundamental disposition of Benedict’s take on humility. It is mediated in and through community, under the guidance of the abbot. In other words, it is learned; and it is not something we can learn by ourselves, no matter how many good books we read nor good acts we perform. We need other people to help us change and become what we are meant to be. The things that humble us in the course of our daily life in community scoop out the pride, obstinacy and self-will we all have in abundance. (cf RB 58. 7) That is why Benedict recommends no particular mortifications or penances to make us humble. Just living together and following Rule and abbot will do the work, or rather, will allow the Holy Spirit to do his work in us, making us, in our turn, reliable workers for the Lord. (cf RB 7.70 et passim)

I think this shows, more than anything else, what an optimistic view of human nature Benedict had. Holiness is not just for the few but for all who truly seek God and are prepared to allow him to act through imperfect circumstances and weak and fallible human beings. We put up so many barriers to God. Monastic life is a constant process of removing those barriers one by one, of becoming vulnerable and discovering in our vulnerability the source of our healing.

May you have a blessed Sunday.

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