Interior Rebellion and the Fifth Degree of Humility

Monday mornings can be difficult. For many, they mark the start of the working week and, curiously, if the weather has been bad over the week-end, the chances are that the sun will shine invitingly on Monday (though that has not been true of many Monday mornings in the U.K. this year). That is when interior rebellion sets in. It starts in a small way, with a little unvoiced grumble and slight downward curve of the lips, and works it way outwards through a touch of brusqueness and non-communicative grumpiness. It can get worse, but I prefer not to trace its course any further lest I be accused of giving you unwholesome ideas.

We all know what it is to rebel interiorly against something or someone. Monday mornings are small beer compared with some of the things that pull us apart. The stock religious answer, to endure, to ‘offer it up’, is all very well when we are in control of our thoughts and feelings, but the whole point about interior rebellion is that we aren’t; so we compound our guilt feelings with a sense of failure, and before you know it, what began as a little grumble ends in narcissistic self-condemnation — and that is the real spiritual danger. Anything which makes us focus narrowly on ourselves, which makes us think of ourselves as junk or failures even the grace of God cannot help, is fundamentally sinful. Yes, we need to acknowledeg ours sins and ask God’s forgiveness, but that is a very different thing from luxuriating in our own awfulness.

The fifth degree of humility which we read today (RB 7: 44 to 48) is less concerned with what we think of as sacramental confession as with the manifestation of conscience, of sharing with another the inner thoughts that drive our actions. It is presupposed that we share them with someone endowed with spiritual wisdom (Benedict assumes it will be the abbot), whose insight will help us get them into perspective. Not everyone is suited for that role, but Benedict stands firmly in the monastic tradition which says that what is brought into the light can no longer do harm. How and when we bring things into the open is, however, a matter for discretion. Just because we are struggling with an interior rebellion of some kind or other does not mean that we can or should blurt out the details to all and sundry or insist on X or Y listening to us now. Even rebellion needs an element of restraint.

The fifth degree of humility asks us to be that most difficult of things, a child in our frankness about ourselves, an adult in our dealings with others. Is that something worth thinking about on Monday morning?