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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

RB, Chapter 7. Humility


Verse 1 - 9
1Brothers, divine Scripture calls to us saying: Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted (Luke 14:11; 18:14).

2In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride, 3which the Prophet indicates he has shunned, saying: O Lord, my heart is not exalted; my eyes are not lifted up and I have not walked in the ways of the great nor gone after marvels beyond me (Ps 130[131]:1). 4And why?
If I had not a humble spirit, but were exalted instead, then you would treat me like a weaned child on its mother’s lap (Ps 130[131]:2). 5Accordingly, brothers, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, 6then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw angels descending and ascending (Gen 28:12).
7Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility. 8Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. 9We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.
Reflection
We begin to reflect now on the value of humility. We have already begun to reflect on obedience and on silence. Humility begins to underline both the silence and the obedience of our monastic life. Monastic life is not a life of thinking badly about ourselves because that is not true humility. Saint Benedict takes a long time and a lot of space to reflect on humility because it is such an important value in our monastic life.

Saint Benedict is totally clear here: if we want to be humble, we will have to work to be humble! Some virtues are given to us as gifts but for others we must really work a lot and spend out energy trying to understand and trying to live the virtue. Humility is that kind of virtue: it will take struggles and a lot of our energy before we begin to understand it and to live it.

Many of us want a virtue such as humility to come to us easily and without much effort. This is fairly general today in our world. If something is really difficult, then often we simply give up trying to attain it and settle for something easier.

For the monk, however, humility is not optional! It is right at the heart of our monastic life and we are given no choice but to struggle until we attain humility. Saint Benedict is going to give us all kinds of steps, 12 of them, so that we can come to know what humility really is and so that we can truly live it.

We must accept Saint Benedict as our guide here and trust in him and begin to practice each of the steps that he gives to us. If we really do practice these steps we begin to see changes in our way of living, changes in our way of thinking and changes in the way that we relate to others. May we have the courage to begin to live each of these steps and trust that by living the steps we shall arrive at a different way of living our lives.
Verse 10 - 12
10The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (Ps 35[36]:2) and never forgets it. 11He must constantly remember everything God has commanded, keeping in mind that all who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and all who fear God have everlasting life awaiting them. 12While he guards himself at every moment from sins and vices of thought or tongue, of hand or foot, of self-will or bodily desire.

Reflection
Again we come across this difference in the first step of humility. We remember that Chapter 5 of the Rule of Benedict tells us that the first step of humility is obedience without delay. Here the first step of obedience is keeping the fear of God always before our eyes and never forget it.
This sounds pretty negative to a lot of people and has little appeal. On the other hand, it is the teaching of our Father Benedict and we must consider it well and strive to put it into practice.
It has been said that this first step of humility is really the spiritual core of the entire Rule of Benedict. Instead of thinking of the "fear of the Lord" as something negative, we need to see it an "awe of God" or as the "memory of God" at work in our lives.
If we begin to think of the "fear of the Lord" as keeping the memory of God always present before us, it loses all of its negativity and become a positive way of thinking of God—with awe but with love and compassion.
The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the memory of the God always before his eyes and never forgets it.
This positive way of thinking does not take away the strength of the next statement: " He must constantly remember everything God has commanded, keeping in mind that all who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and all who fear God have everlasting life awaiting them."

We monks must remember always the commandments of God. It is much easier to live without thinking and remembering! Saint Benedict invites us, as part of keeping the memory of God before us, to remember what God asks of us. We need always to be aware of the "two roads" that are possible for us, one leading to God and one leading to hell. Hell is not a popular topic in our present age.
Probably it has never been too popular! Today many people do not even believe in hell or in a devil. Saint Benedict is quite clear about these realities.

For us who follow the Lord Jesus, our hearts must be set on Him always. This is the way of keeping his memory always before us. The more we are in awe of Him and love Him, the more we shall turn away from the vices and sins that may be within us and which we live in our lives.
Truly we can say that keeping the fear of God, the memory of God, the awe of God, central in our lives will transform us little by little with the Lord's grace. We can never demand grace but we can be consistent in asking. May the Lord help us!

Verse 13 - 18
13let him recall that he is always seen by God in heaven, that his actions everywhere are in God’s sight and are reported by angels at every hour.
14The Prophet indicates this to us when he shows that our thoughts are always present to God, saying: God searches hearts and minds (Ps 7:10); 15again he says: The Lord knows the thoughts of men (Ps 93[94]:11); 16likewise, From afar you know my thoughts (Ps 138[139]:3); 17and, The thought of man shall give you praise (Ps 75[76]:11).
18That he may take care to avoid sinful thoughts, the virtuous brother must always say to himself: I shall be blameless in his sight if I guard myself from my own wickedness (Ps 17[18]:24).
Reflection
In these few verses The Rule of Benedict points us to God once again, using the Psalms as the basic text to speak of humility.

First, we must realize that nothing is hidden from God. This reality is expressed here in the normal manner of previous ages: God looks at us, we are seen. These are images of course, since God does not have eyes and does not see the way that we see.
The phrases are not meant to be taken literally, but as images: telling us that God knows us to the innermost part of our being, nothing is hidden from God, not now and not in the past and not in the future.

Another image given to us is that God searches our hearts and the minds. This indicates that God really has interest in us. God is actively knowing us, not at all like watching a movie or a picture of some kind. God seeks us out and wants to know us—not to condemn us but to invite us to live the divine life.

Our response to God is to avoid that which damages the relationship with Him. So we avoid sinful thoughts. This is a very strong teaching among the early monks and still has enormous value today.
The early monks recognized that our actions generally begin with thoughts and if we can learn how to control our thoughts with faith, then our actions will reflect this change. This has been summarized in a simple saying: our feelings and actions must be directed by reason; then reason must be directed by faith.
This seems fairly easy to do until we try to do it consistently.
Just as in the earlier verses of this Chapter of the Rule, we are invited to be aware of God, but in these verses the focus is more on being aware that God is aware of us!
Verse 19 - 23
19Truly, we are forbidden to do our own will, for Scripture tells us: Turn away from your desires (Sir 18:30). 20And in the Prayer too we ask God that his will be done in us (Matt 6:10). 21We are rightly taught not to do our own will, since we dread what Scripture says: There are ways which men call right that in the end plunge into the depths of hell (Prov 16:25).

22Moreover, we fear what is said of those who ignore this: They are corrupt and have become depraved in their desires (Ps 13[14]:1). 23As for the desires of the body, we must believe that God is always with us, for All my desires are known to you (Ps 37[38]:10), as the Prophet tells the Lord.

Reflection
Many of us today don't think much about where our hopes, our plans, our desires come from. Many of us focus more on the fact that they are "ours" and should be honored. As we read Verse 19, we are called to reflect that serving God means trying to follows God's hopes, desires and plans for us.

Desires can often have an overtone of sexuality, in the Bible and in the Rule also. Here this seems not to be the focus until we get to the "desires of the flesh." Even at that point, the reference may be more to these hopes and plans that come simply from us and which we do not place before the Lord.
At the level of the theory of the inner life, the life of seeking God, we admit that we are given life in order to seek and to do God's will, not our own. Every day we pray in the "Our Father"—and lots of times each day—that God's will be done in us.

Benedict wants us to recognize that lots of our own plans and desires ultimately lead us away from God and not to God. Away from God is the same as leading us to hell. When we ignore this advice, we become corrupt and depraved in our own desires.
Here it is easy to think of brothers who make all of their own plans and then ask the abbot for his approval. If the abbot approves, all of their plans look like they are a true seeking of God's will and everything is peaceful. On the other hand, if the abbot does not approve, there is conflict and anger and frustration, which reveals that deep inside the brother, he was already following his own will.

These verses given to us today are really important in the struggle to be obedient. In the Rule of Benedict, the remedy for our own will is to do the will of another. That "another" is the abbot or our immediate superior.

How often we consider ourselves so very obedient as long as the abbot approves what we have already decided. How rare it is for the monk simply to present his plans and hopes and desires, and then ask the abbot: "What do you really think? Is this the will of God for me?"

Verse 24 - 30
24We must then be on guard against any base desire, because death is stationed near the gateway of pleasure. 25For this reason Scripture warns us, Pursue not your lusts (Sir 18:30).

26Accordingly, if the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov 15:3), 27if at all times the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see whether any understand and seek God (Ps 13[14]:2); 28and if every day the angels assigned to us report our deeds to the Lord day and night, 29then, brothers, we must be vigilant every hour or, as the Prophet says in the psalm, God may observe us falling at some time into evil and so made worthless (Ps 13[14]:3).
30After sparing us for a while because he is a loving father who waits us to improve, he may tell us later, This you did, and I said nothing (Ps 49[50]:21).
Reflection
We come to the end of this fairly long first step of humility. It seems long because it putting down many of the foundations of our spiritual life as monks, as men who are seeking God.
There seems no doubt that in this step of humility, Saint Benedict is warning us against sexual desires. On the other hand, Saint Benedict is very much aware that a monk can learn to control his sexual desires and still have many other hopes and plans that just as surely undermine the journey to God. There are countless other pleasures desires those of our sexuality.

We return in this last part of the first degree, the first step of humility, to the awareness that God's watches us and even sends his angels to watch over us. Perhaps such watching sounds here a bit menacing—and may be meant to sound that way—but ultimately God and angels watch us in love. Our challenge is not to take that love for granted, but instead to learn how to respond to it will all our being.

The last section of this degree of humility tells us that God may observe us falling into evil and then wait for us to improve. God's patience is another way of expressing God's love for us. The goal is always the same: how do we begin now to respond to this God who loves us?
At the level of our daily life, sometimes the abbot also sees a brother making a choice that will not lead him to the Lord. If the brother is open to the abbot's words, the abbot is free to say something and perhaps the brother make a choice that leads him to God.
On the other hand, many times the abbot must remain silent because he knows that his words will not only not be heard, they may harden the heart of the brother so that he stays longer on a wrong path. Once again we need to be aware that obedience is the road of the monk, and especially obedience to his abbot.
Verse 31 - 33
31The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; 32rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me (John 6:38). 33 Similarly we read, “Consent merits punishment; constraint wins a crown.”
Reflection
The first step of humility is keeping the fear of God before us always—with many overtones of obedience involved in keeping that awareness and memory of God.

This second step clarified just a little more what it means not to do our own will—again we touch the theme of obedience. We are beginning to see why Chapter 5, on Obedience, states that the first step of humility is obedience!

Here we are encouraged not to love our own will. This sounds impossible until we put it into the context of seeking God. The more that we become interested in the spiritual life, the inner life with God, the more we come to understand that all we really want is God and to do God's will.

Such an understanding, even such a desire, does not make us capable of only wanting God and God's will. Rather we must begin to do the strong and difficult work of cooperating with God's grace and allowing ourselves to be changed, to be transformed, to be converted.

The quotation at the end of this small section of the Rule is from an early Christian saying. It is not entirely clear what the meaning is, but perhaps Terrence Kardong's understanding might help: "As is clear from the context, the issue in the tracts is the forced actions of persecuted Christians: What they are forced to do against their conscience, far from bringing guilt, is meritorious." This is at least one way of understanding the quotation.

For us as monks, the challenge is how to follow just our own will. To obtain this end, we follow the will of the abbot, except in a case where the abbot might—God forbid—ask us to do something immoral. In the case of something immoral, we must simply say "no."

Like many of the steps of humility, this one is generally ignored in our present age. The abbot rarely asks a monk to do anything other than follow the life and accept whatever assignment he is asked to take. Perhaps the abbot should be more forceful in our own time so that the monk can come to understand this step of humility. Perhaps a monk needs to ask his abbot more: what do you want me to do? Is there anything in my life that you want me to change?
Verse 34
34The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: He became obedient even to death (Phil 2:8).
Reflection
This third step of humility is surely one of the most difficult. It is the shortest step in number of words, but calls on us for the most personal change in our lives. None of us likes to obey all that much! Yet we are given the example of our Lord Jesus, who became obedient even to death.

What does it mean to submit to a superior in all obedience? The master tells us: "If he puts no trust in his own opinion but all in the judgment of his superior and listens eagerly and willingly to his directions."

Always we must be careful so that the monk truly develops as a human being, but as a monk as well. The monk, in order to do this, at times must be able to tell his abbot: I don't agree with you. That is fine. But the monk must still obey and try to follow what his abbot asks of him, and this can be very difficult at times. Most of us don't like to make our decisions with our abbot! Instead we make our own decisions and then try to get the abbot to agree with us.

This is not obedience.
To be truly obedient, the monk must listen and try to see life as his abbot sees it—at least in some sense. At the level of external obedience, the monk accepts all that the abbot asks of him and tries to live that obedience with a cheerful heart.
That is really difficult at times. If the monk resists all the time, then he has not yet become a full monk. Monks who have lived monastic life for many, many years, often learn how to obey because they have finally discovered that not much matters except following the Lord and having peace in one's heart.

Just as Jesus did not want to accept death, but did accept it because He wanted to do the Father's will, so also we monks eventually learn to accept the small death of following our superiors and letting go of what we want so as to do what they want us to do!

So often we justify doing just what we want to do by thoughts such as these: the abbot doesn't really understand me; the abbot doesn't really understand this situation; the abbot is from another culture and doesn't understand; the abbot is a different age and doesn't understand; the abbot doesn't really understand the Church today; the abbot doesn't understand what makes for a good monastic life; and so on.

None of these thoughts can have value before the Lord who asks us, by our vows, to be obedient al an abbot who is never perfect and who imperfections really prove our obedience or our lack of obedience.

May God give us the grace to obey and to come to know the wonderful and mystical beauty of honest obedience according to our vows.
Verse 35 - 43
35The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering 36and endures it without weakening or seeking escape. For Scripture has it: Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22), 37and again, Be brave of heart and rely on the Lord (Ps 26[27]:14).
38Another passage shows how the faithful must endure everything, even contradiction, for the Lord’s sake, saying in the person of those who suffer, For your sake we are put to death continually; we are regarded as sheep marked for slaughter (Rom 8:36; Ps 43[44]:22).

39They are so confident in their expectation of reward from God that they continue joyfully and say, But in all this we overcome because of him who so greatly loved us (Rom 8:37). 40Elsewhere Scripture says: O God, you have tested us, you have tried us as silver is tried by fire; you have led us into a snare, you have placed afflictions on our backs (Ps 65[66]:10–11).
41Then, to show that we ought to be under a superior, it adds: You have placed men over our heads (Ps 65[66]:12). 42In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command: When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two (Matt 5:39–41).

43With the Apostle Paul, they bear with false brothers, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12).
Reflection
This step of humility speaks almost directly to our hearts. Each one of us has felt at times the suffering of trying to obey our abbot or our superiors. Who of us has never felt the difficult, unfavorable or even unjust conditions of obedience? Saint Benedict is clear that when we experience these real difficulties in obedience, we must quietly embrace the suffering and endure it without weakening or seeking escape.

That seems almost impossible in our present, but Saint Benedict is telling us that it is possible and that to be monks, we must learn to act in this way, accepting the sufferings of obedience.
Saint Benedict continues in this section almost to pound his point home: no matter what happens, we must obey. If it is difficult, we must obey. If it is unfavorable, we must obey. If it is unjust, we must obey. If it is a contradiction, we must obey.

Saint Benedict softens the impact of these truly strong statements when he says of us monks that we are so confident in our expectation of reward from God that we can continue in our obedience joyfully because we know that God loves us!

For the superior, of course, it is not easy to be thought of as a scourge of God! Saint Benedict quotes Psalm 65/66: You have placed men over our heads! And the implication seems to be that it is the superior who will strike us on one cheek and we must turn the other.
It is the superior who will deprive us of our coat and we must then offer our cloak as well. It is the superior who will push us to go one mile and we must offer to go two miles! That is surely how we shall feel about our superiors from time to time, especially if the superior is truly faithful to the Rule and not afraid of insisting that we live the monastic life.

May God help each one of us with the fourth step of humility! May God help the superior be faithful and ask us to be monks. May God help us monks walk faithfully the royal road of obedience.
Verse 44 - 48
44The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly. 45Concerning this, Scripture exhorts us: Make known your way to the Lord and hope in him (Ps 36 [37]:5). 46And again, Confess to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy is forever (Ps 105[106]:1; Ps 117[118]:1).

47So too the Prophet: To you I have acknowledged my offense; my faults I have not concealed. 48I have said: Against myself I will report my faults to the Lord, and you have forgiven the wickedness of my heart (Ps 31[32]:5).
Reflection
Truly these steps of humility become very difficult for us modern people! There are monks even in our own community who live this step of humility and it does change one's life radically. We can easily see in this fifth step of humility why we should think of humility as truth rather than as self-abasement or putting oneself down.

It takes a very humble person to live in his own truth and to be able to say to his abbot, with complete candor: this is what I have done, this is what I have thought, and I ask you to help me be faithful to the Lord!

If we truly believe that the abbot is Christ present in the community, as is the clear teaching of the Rule of Benedict, then this step of humility makes complete sense. On the other hand, it demands of us that we live entirely by faith and not in any other way.

The abbot for his part must respond as Christ would respond: with love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness—and also giving a clear direction to the monk. We can think of Jesus' words to the woman in John's Gospel: Go now and sin no more. Such words must clearly come from love and compassion and a total acceptance of the monk with all of his failings.

Each of us must consider how we can live this step of humility! We must strive to keep ascending this ladder of humility by practicing what our Holy Father recommends, even when it is difficult. May the Lord help us open our hearts so that we can live in spirit and in truth!
Verse 49 - 50
49The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, 50saying to himself with the Prophet: I am insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you, yet I am with you always (Ps 72[73]:22–23).
Reflection
When we are young, this step of humility may seem difficult. Generally as we get older, it seems simply to be something that we take for granted, especially if we have continued to try to live a good monastic life. Usually we are much more confident of our personality and our identity as we get older and so no longer worry about how others treat us.

If we are still young, how do we begin to live this step of humility? First we must accept any treatment given to us by others—and that is not easy. We must fight against our own reactions and learn how to cling to God alone.
If we feel that a brother or a superior is mistreating us, we need to recognize our own feelings in the matter and then have the courage to accept this treatment. This is only possible for us if we are living by faith and not living by the standards of this world.

At some point in a serious monastic life, we must begin to accept the teachings of our Holy Father Benedict and try to live them. This step of humility is one of those great opportunities for us to find out the real value of struggling against ourselves. It is a great opportunity to find out how suffering can strengthen us in the spiritual battle.

Sometimes when we feel mistreated or badly treated, we can reflect that although the treatment is difficult for us, we can offer it up in reparation for the sins of our past life, for the sinfulness of our world and for those who suffer unjustly all over the world. We monks really do not suffer so very much when we look at the immense sufferings in our world.

The real struggle is always against ourselves. We want to be treated well. We want to be acknowledged. We want others to be good to us. This step of humility never denies those quite normal and healthy feelings.
The step of humility does tell us, though, that if we really want to advance in the spiritual life, we must be able to put our own desires to one side and accept whatever happens to us and seek God in the events of our daily life, never losing our peace and tranquility. This is not easy! But it is possible. Let us use the opportunities of our daily lives to walk with our Lord Jesus and learn from Him!
Verse 51 - 54
51The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, 52humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: I am truly a worm, not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people (Ps 21[22]:7).
53I was exalted, then I was humbled and overwhelmed with confusion (Ps 87[88]:16). 54And again, It is a blessing that you have humbled me so that I can learn your commandments (Ps 118[119]:71, 73).
Reflection
We move on in the steps of humility, always with a sense that Saint Benedict is asking more and more of us. This step really sounds like not very good psychology to our modern ears. But if we meditate and pray, perhaps we can come to understand what it means in our daily lives.
Perhaps once more we should be aware that an older man and a younger man will probably think in different ways about this step of humility.

As a man gets older, he can recognize that his motivation is truly flawed and that his reasons for doing things are often very bad indeed. Perhaps an older man will have very little problem in thinking of himself as inferior to all and of less value. Of course, some older men would not think this way at all. On the other hand, a man who has consistently tried to follow the Lord, I think, will have very little problem in thinking according to this step of humility.

The man who can think this way (admits and is convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all of less value) does not necessarily have any inferiority complex nor a bad self image. Rather, he can see himself as honestly evaluating his life and his motivations in a very straightforward manner.

The challenge for all of us, as monks, is to accept this teaching of our Holy Father Benedict and to strive to live it and see what effect it has in our lives. So often, we modern people reject teachings from the saints without ever trying them to see if they might have some wonderful and good effect in our lives.
May the Lord God help us this day to walk this step of humility. May the Holy Spirit show us the value of this step and help us continue the spiritual struggle ahead of us.
Verse 55
55The 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.

Reflection
This step seems so absolutely simple that we often cannot imagine that anyone would find it difficult. Yet it can be very difficult. In the past, many monks were told in formation: Don't be singular! Today that kind of language is not often heard in formation or even later, but the message is still true.

That message is clear: We must find our identity by being ordinary monks of the community rather than by trying to be different, trying to show that we are better, trying to show that we are gifted, trying to show that we are special. In order to do what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by the superiors, we must be able to see what they do and hear what they say. That means that we must pay attention.

Part of the tradition of teaching this step of humility is to state clearly that we should follow only the good example of our superiors. Saint Benedict says this elsewhere in his Rule: If the superior does not follow his own teaching about what to do and what not to do, then the monk should follow the words of the superior but not his bad example.

A great challenge in monasteries is for the superiors, the seniors, those who are in solemn vows, to set a truly good example for the juniors, those who are still learning how to live monastic life. When we wonder about the observance in the monastery, each one of us must make an effort to live truly what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery. For us today, this common rule of the monastery is expressed in our Customary, the book in which we write down how we expect a monk to live.

So we can say about this step of humility that it obliges us, if we want to be holy, to follow what the community has decided and placed in the Customary. For all of us, there are probably some aspects of our Customary that we like less than others!
Yet in order to follow Christ, in order to walk this path of humility, we must learn to accept the whole way of life in our Customary and to do this with dignity and with joy. May the Lord help us!
Verse 56 - 58
56The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, 57for Scripture warns, In a flood of words you will not avoid sinning (Prov 10:19), 58and, A talkative man goes about aimlessly on earth (Ps 139[140]:12).

Reflection
For us human beings, control of our tongues is really difficult. We find references to this way of living in much literature from other religious traditions as well. The person who cannot control his or her speech is a person who will have problems throughout life.

We have to distinguish here between a person who is silent and yet angry inside and the person who can remain silent and peaceful inside. Yet this step of humility is obviously speaking first simply about physical silence. Even if another person can see that we are angry, we must learn to keep silence and to insist that we shall say nothing. After that we can work at coming to inner peace and then, perhaps, having a word.

We need to be aware that even if another person has asked us a question, there are times when we must guard silence. And there are times when no question is asked and we should speak. This deep understanding of when to speak and when to be silence comes from the virtues of wisdom and prudence. This particular step of humanity is one of the ways in which we come to know what wisdom and prudence can be in our lives.

We should not think that this step of humility is a greater difficulty in our time than in previous ages. It seems to be a challenge for each age of history and for each human being. For those who are taciturn by nature, there is still the challenge of inner silence. For those who are talkative by nature, there is the gift of learning how this silence changes the inner life.

May we learn to practice this external silence. May we learn the value of internal peace and silence. May we given the Holy Spirit to show us when to speak.
Verse 59
59The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter, for it is written: Only a fool raises his voice in laughter (Sir 21:23).
Reflection
This step again tells us that the monk must be a serious person, not one who is always laughing. Does this mean that the monk should never laugh? Does this mean that the monk must not see the humor in anything? Probably not, although a monk should be expected to be present and to be serious when that is the normally accepted behavior.

In the ancient traditions, there is some understanding that laughter of itself is not really a good thing for humans. Btu that is only a part of the tradition. In other tradition, laughter is the defining characteristic of being human, since animals do not laugh.

Saint Benedict seems in this step of humility to indicate that monk can laugh but must be careful not to be a person who only laughs and does not know how to be serious.
Perhaps in the monastery at times monks prefer to laugh rather than to be serious. Saint Benedict indicates that the balance should be on the other side. A monk should know how to laugh, but should generally be serious.

A monk should want to be taken seriously when speaking to others and if he never expresses a deep thought or an inclination to seriousness, hw will not be taken seriously by others.
Let us pray that we can be serious monks who know when and how to laugh!
Verse 60 - 61
60The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, 61as it is written: “A wise man is known by his few words.”
Reflection
We are now coming close to the end of the steps of humility. Once again Saint Benedict puts before us the model type of behavior that he wants of his monks. This step seems easy after we have practiced the first ten steps! What a difference in the monastic life of a community when many brothers practice this eleventh step!

First, a monk should speak gently. Although speaking gently sounds easy, it is not so easy when we are convinced of something and want to insist on it! We should all recognize, however, the when a monk presents his ideas gently, they have a much better chance of being heard and understood and even accepted.

When a monk is loud or insistent, much of the attention of his listeners goes to the loudness or to the insistence—but not to the idea or thought itself.

Gentleness does not mean that a monk cannot make a clear and strong presentation, but it must be gentle. Most of us know the difference when we feel pushed by someone else or when we feel invited by someone else. Saint Benedict would have his monks be the type of people who invite others to listen rather than insist that others listen.

Without laughter, Saint Benedict says. It is important that when something needs to be discussed that we do not ridicule it by laughing at it. Ridicule and this kind of laughter only push others to be defensive when they should be listening. There can be a place for humor when presenting one's ideas, but we must be careful to preserve the seriousness of our thoughts and feelings.

The monk needs to present his thoughts briefly and reasonably. We do not want to be known as a person who says in twenty minutes what could have been said in two minutes! Some of us feel that we must keep elaborating our thoughts. Benedict wants thoughts to be short and clear, brief and reasonable.

Let us try to walk this small step of humility today. We can learn to be silent, to be gentle, to be modest. And we can trust that as we try to live this way, the Lord will open the hearts and minds of others to us.
Verse 62 - 70
62The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident 63at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.

Whether he sits, walks or stands, his head must be bowed and his eyes cast down. 64Judging himself always guilty on account of his sins, he should consider that he is already at the fearful judgment, 65and constantly say in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with downcast eyes: Lord, I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven (Luke 18:13).

66And with the Prophet: I am bowed down and humbled in every way (Ps 37[38]:7–9; Ps 118[119]:107). 67Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

68Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, 69no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. 70All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workman now cleansed of vices and sins.
Reflection
Here we are at the end of the steps of humility. If we have tried seriously to walk each step of humility, our lives have changed. This should be our personal experience as well as that of Saint Benedict. What happens is that we begin to live almost naturally the spiritual life. We will still have failures and defects, but our hearts will be clearly established on the road which leads to life eternal and we begin to have delight in walking that road.

This is a change that comes over the monk slowly and is not always so clear until one day the monk recognizes that he is firmly set on this road and finds it easier and easier to walk the road.
There is, as Saint Benedict notes, a cleaning of vices and sins.
That takes place on this journey as well, in the Lord's time. It is so important to note that unless we set out now on the steps of humility, we will not come to this point in our lives. Every day we must set out again on this road and trust in the Lord. Every day we will find ourselves still sinners and still faithless, yet it is God who keeps summoning us to Him.

Love of Christ, good habit and delight in virtue! These are really important realities for the monk. If we are not loving Christ, then there is no sense in being in the Monastery. Good habits take a long time to form, but will form only if we keep working at them. Delight in virtue can come only when we begin to practice virtue and begin to see its effects in our lives.

So much of the spiritual life needs to be lived for a long period of time before we begin to see and to experience its effects in our lives. Often we rebel against doing something that we have not tried before but Saint Benedict is telling us: This is the road! Walk it with confidence! Let us set out today to walk with the Lord under the guidance of our Holy Father Benedict.

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