Mindfulness: the First Step of Humility

Three times every year we re-read RB 7, St Benedict’s sustained treatment of humility, and it never fails to strike me that the first quality he singles out is mindfulness — keeping the fear of God before one’s eyes at all times and never forgetting it; constantly keeping in mind all that God has commanded . . . recollecting that one is always seen by God in heaven . . . always saying in one’s heart, and so on and so forth (RB 7. 10–18). In Benedict’s monastery, there is neither opportunity nor excuse for forgetfulness. God is always and everywhere present, and that is the ground of our humility.

It certainly makes sense to me that constant awareness of God would preclude any pride or vanity, but isn’t it rather a strain to be always thinking of God and godly things, a little forced? I think that may be one reason why the Rule provides a whole way of life in which God is always at the centre. Everything in the monastery, from its layout to its contents, is intended to reinforce this awareness of God, but naturally and without effort. Already in this first degree or step of humility Benedict is looking towards the twelfth, when the monk or nun will ‘begin to observe without struggle, as though naturally and from habit, all those things which earlier he did not observe without dread.’ (RB 7. 68) Tellingly, the motivation he gives for this new way of acting is ‘no longer for fear of hell but for love of Christ and from good habit and delight in virtue.’ (RB7. 69) That is the goal of mindfulness, of humility in all its forms, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. (RB7. 70)

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