Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Enfleshed Love

There are many dimensions to the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ who is “Perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting.” (Quincunque Vult). One of those dimensions is the enfleshment of Divine Love, first in Mary, and then in us.

       Love enfleshed in human hearts, by necessity is coloured by each heart in which it is enfleshed.  Some hearts are silver, some are gold, some a dross that never should be told.  Even impure loves, twisted and misshapen, have an echo of God’s love, albeit barely recognizable.  The closer one comes to the source of love in glad surrender, the purer flows His love within our hearts.  The farther away from Him we are, the more bent, perhaps even perilously broken, is the love of God within that heart.  But always remember that the God of love was broken for us, and that this pitiable breaking is nothing new to Him with whom we have to do.  The miracle of the love of God is this, that his love, flowing from His being, is so often revealed in our affection, brotherly love, eros and romantic love, a living parable of the love of Christ Jesus.

There is an astounding grace in enfleshed love, but it is not just love that is enfleshed in us, but Love Himself is enfleshed not only in Mary Theotokos, but also through the agency of the Holy Spirit of God that same Love is enfleshed in us.  He is the Vine, we are the branches. (John 15:3). He has no illusions about our nature for nothing is, or ever has been, hidden from Him with Whom we have to do.  We are quite frankly sinful human beings; that is our condition, and He knows that better than we ourselves.

One of the miracles of His grace extended to us in His indwelling in our human flesh is that our repentance is of necessity imperfect.  It is impossible for us to confess all our sins. The deeper we dig the dirtier it gets.   No sooner do we think we have reached the bottom of our bottomless pit of iniquity and consider that we have thankfully made a good confession, than some other thing we have missed in our confession creeps into consciousness.  This is not always a work of the Holy Spirit.  One cannot be saved by the good work of repentance and confession, one is saved by grace through faith, and there is an accuser of the brethren who seeks to heap guilt upon us and rob our joy.  That is why Teresa of Avila says, “He gilds my faults.” The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Vol. One, “The Book of Her Life”, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh & Otilio Rodriquez, (Washington: ICS Publications, 1987), 68-69.

After a long season of Christian living one often discovers that some thought pattern or habit of action, or inaction, is not really acceptable to God and never has been.  The miracle of His love is this: Even though we have a store of undiscovered stuff He loves us and extends His grace to us.  Not only that; He allows us to walk joyfully in His presence with all this undiscovered stuff and doesn’t seek to bring it to our attention until we are strong enough to discover more about ourselves.  That is probably why the Dominican Mystic Henry Suso says somewhere, “No matter how much one abandons oneself, one repeatedly finds more of oneself to abandon.”

There is a truth hidden in Chaucer’s description of the Prioress whose nose was straight, her eyes green as glass, her mouth full small, and thereto soft and red, . . . about her arm she bore small coral prayer beads, beads all green and thereon hung a brooch of shining gold on which there was engraved a crowned A, and Amor Vincit Omnia, Love Conquers All, (Chaucer Canterbury Tales, Prologue, 152-162, trans. Robin P. Smith).  Despite the ambivalent purity of the Prioress, it is still true, that through the grace and gift of Christ, that Amor Vincit Omnia, Love conquers all; that we ourselves are gifted by virtue of that love with an amazing grace in God’s acceptance of us and His enfleshed love.

When Love is enfleshed in us; Love incarnate in us works His work through all our relationships and all our loving.  St. Paul’s lofty description of the marriage relationship of one man and one woman starts with the mutual submission of each to the other.  That by the way is a condition of being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. (Ephesians 5:17-22).  This description ends with correlation of the union of husband and wife with the great theme of Christ and the Church. (Ephesians 5:32-33).

In this mutual submission all pretence of the perfection of either husband or wife is abandoned, which is why Charles Williams says that the lover is the cross on which the beloved is crucified.  (Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice Mary Hatfield, [Berkeley, CA: The Apocryphile Press,  2005], p. 23).  We accept one another even as God the Father through Christ Jesus accepts us, with eyes-wide-open forgiveness, knowing that neither husband or wife are perfect; indeed abandoning the unrealistic and ungodly expectation the other be perfect when we know full well that we ourselves are not perfect.  Of course if you are character disordered that won’t make any sense.  In that generous acceptance of flawed lover and flawed beloved, each for the other, we allow grace to work its abundance in glad tolerance gilding the faults of one another.  Amor Vincit Omnia!

This enfleshed Love works His way down through all of our relationships, parent and child, brother and sister, dear friends, and even the dogs under the kitchen table.  Love that cannot be loved in the mundane and flawed is not Love at all but only abstract sterility.  Love, to be Love in the flesh must love as He loved, enfleshed in very human flesh with all its sins and foibles.  Amor Vincit Omnia.

Monday, April 13, 2015


I have edited the text for the use of St. Anthony of the Desert, our own Chapter of St. Scholastica Monastery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. The text is divided into three sections. Our Chapter meets one Sunday of each month at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, Texas, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. to sing the Offices and share in a cold collation. All are welcome.

Chapter VII Of Humility [Section I]

Introduction and the First Step of Humility

Brothers and Sisters, the Holy Scripture cries to us saying: “Every one that exalts himself will be humbled; and he that humbles himself will be exalted” (Lk 14:11)[i]. Since Scripture says this; it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride. The Prophet declares that he guards himself against this, saying: “O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.” (Ps 131:1). What then? “If I was not humbly minded, but were exalted instead; then you would have treated me like a weaned child upon my mother’s lap.” (Ps 131:2).  

It is important to understand that Oblates are not Monks or Nuns. Monastics live in an environment where those within the monastery, by virtue of their vows, have committed themselves to fulfill the precepts of the Rule of St. Benedict, in the context of their community. The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration website gives the following description of the vows taken by Monks and Nuns.

Our Benedictine vows come from the Rule of Saint Benedict which was written centuries before poverty, chastity and obedience became the standard vows.
Saint Benedict's vows (or promises as he called them) are stability, ‘conversatio’ and obedience. Stability is a commitment of lifelong fidelity to God and our Congregation. ‘Conversatio’ is a commitment to embrace all of monastic life as a path to holiness and conversion. This includes poverty or simplicity of life and chastity. Obedience is a vow of listening, responsive love to the voice of God as it comes to us through prayer, the Rule of Saint Benedict, Scripture, our prioress and our sisters.[ii]

Oblates live in very different circumstances, and those around the Oblates are most often not committed to the same set of values to which the Oblates aspire. Nevertheless Oblates strive to take seriously the call to stability, conversatio, and obedience insofar as their station in life permits. At the center of Benedictine life is the understanding of humility; but that humility is dynamically opposite to the aspirations of the world around them.

On the surface that may sound very academic, but it’s not. It is often a painful reality. Oblates frequently struggle with the need for personal balance in settings that can be very conflictual, in the family, in the various places of employment, and even within the parish church. The call to humility may sound as odd as Latin in the ears of the children of the world; but listen to what the Rule of St. Benedict has to say to the Oblates who live in less than ideal circumstances?

Therefore, brothers and sisters, if we wish to reach the greatest height of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that heavenly exaltation to which we climb in the present life by our actions, we must erect the ladder which appeared to Jacob in his dream, on which the angels were ascending and descending (Gen 28:12). Without a doubt, we understand this ascending and descending to be nothing other than we descend by pride and ascend by humility.

The erected ladder is our life in this present world, by which, if the heart is humble, the Lord lifts us up to heaven. Our body and our soul are the two sides of this ladder; and into these two sides of our Divine Vocation, as Monks or Oblates, has inserted the various steps of humility or discipline which we must climb. If you would learn peace, learn humility.  If you embrace self-exaltation you embrace the disharmony that governs the world.

The starting place is learning Godly fear [or awe]. The Book of Proverbs tells us that, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”[iii] The very idea that God is to be feared is antithetical to the children of the world, and especially to the children of the world within the Church.  According to C. S. Lewis, “What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, 'What does it matter so long as they are contented'?  What we want, in fact, is not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven—a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves', and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of the day, 'a good time was had by all'.”[iv] Those who hold God in awe understand that God’s Holiness is immutable in its perfection. Therefore, “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire”.[v]

The first step of humility is that a man always ought to have the fear of God before his eyes ( Ps 35:1), never forgetting it, and always remembering all that God has commanded. He [each brother or sister] should keep in mind that those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who hold God in awe. And while he guards himself always against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also make haste to cut off the lusts of the flesh. Let him recall that God always sees him from Heaven, and that the eye of God looks on all his works, and that the angels report his works to God every hour.

This has a direct implication on the calling of the Oblate as well as the Monastic.  To assume that the Monastic has less temptation than an Oblate is to gravely underestimate the temptations that beset the Monastic.  Temptation is a universal experience.  Paul tells us, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”[vi]  Monastic and Oblate alike suffer temptations.

This section of The Rule offers three antidotes, and one of those is an understanding of accountability; heaven is not a mythical place, and neither is hell. Secondly, although we are dependent on grace we need to take action and guard our minds against sin and vice, and make haste to cut off, instead of entertain the lusts of the flesh. Many contemporary Christians fail to take this latter point seriously thinking that grace falls on the passive, rather than on the obedient. The Collect for the First Sunday in Advent makes both our obedience and our participation clear, “Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.”[vii]

The prophet tells us the same thing saying “The searcher of hearts and minds is God” (Ps 7:9). And again: “The Lord knows the thoughts of men” (Ps 94:11) And also he says: “You discern my thoughts from afar.” (Ps 139:2). And: “The thoughts of man shall praise You” (Ps 76:10 Vulgate). Therefore, in order that he may always be on his guard against evil thoughts, let the humble brother always say in his heart: “I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt.” (Ps 18:23)

The Lord knows every thought that crosses our mind, as well as every word that is on our lips. The full text is helpful, “O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.[viii]

Third, remember that we are never really alone. The shocking truth is that not only does God see us at all times, but according to St. Benedict even the angels, always present with us, report our works to God every hour.

Therefore we are forbidden to do our own will, because Scripture tells us: “turn away from your base desires” (Sir 18:30). Therefore we ask God that His will may be done in us (Mt 6:10). And we are rightly taught not to do our own will, when we heed the warning of Scripture, “There are ways that seem right to men, but the end plunges them into the depths of hell” (Prov 16:25).

            Remember that Obedience is one of the two fundamental Benedictine vows. St. Benedict tells us that if we would fight against temptation, we will have to learn obedience, saying, “Therefore we are forbidden to do our own will.” In Chapter V of the Rule, St. Benedict lays down the principle, “The first step of humility is unhesitating obedience,”[ix] He does not leave this as an abstract principle, “they must carry out the superior’s order as promptly as if the command came from God himself.”[x]

Let me remind you of the teachings of St. Paul who wrote in an era when persecution was immanent, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”[xi]

Rampant in the American ethos is the notion that each individual, Bible in hand, has the right, no! the Duty to criticize religious leaders. That is very far from the mind of St. Benedict. St. Vincent of Lerins wrote, “We take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.”[xii] As Benedictines we are not called to be critics, but to be obedient, and that obedience is the foundation of humility and the source of our stability.

And we also fear what is said to the negligent, “They are corrupted and have become abominable in their pleasure" (Ps 14:1). As for desires of the flesh, let us believe that God is thus ever present to us, since the Prophet says to the Lord: “Every desire of mine is before You” (Ps 37:9). We must, therefore, guard against every evil desire, because death lurks close by the gate of pleasure. For this reason Scripture commands us, saying: "Pursue not your lusts" (Sir 18:30).

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, may be an Ang Lee martial arts film, but it also has a spiritual application; death lurks close by the gate of pleasure. It is not that God is against pleasure, after all He created pleasure for His own good pleasure as well as ours,[xiii] but it is absolutely clear that God is against those illicit “pleasures” which will damage the soul, the inner person. That after all is the point of the Ten Commandments and of Jesus understanding of the Law in Matthew, Chapter Five. If you play with fire, you will be burned.

In the conclusion of the first step of humility St. Benedict returns to an earlier theme:

The eyes of the Lord observe the good and the bad (Prov 15:3), and the Lord always looks down from heaven on the children of men to see whether there are any who understand or seek after God (Ps 14:1). Our actions are also reported to the Lord day and night by the angels who are appointed to watch over us daily. Therefore we must always be on our guard. As the Prophet says in the Psalm, so that God may not see that we have "turned aside to evil and become unprofitable" (Ps 14:1). Take note that He has spared us in the present time because He is loving and waits for us to be changed for the better, and also in order that He might not say to us in the future: "These things you have done and I was silent" (Ps 50:21).

Remember that the first step is always the first step, and if you don’t climb the first step you won’t reach the second step. In his conclusion of the first step St. Benedict returns to the theme of the Watching God and His angels. We are not alone, we never are. God is always watching. What we do is reported day and night to God by His angels. That is the basic reason why we ought to be on guard, and it obviously has to do with holding God in awe. In order to understand the final verse in the first step of humility it helps to look at it in context. It has to do with our treatment, not only of those in authority, but also our treatment of each other, “You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother's son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.”[xiv] Humility is not an abstract quality that exists in a vacuum, but something that is always worked out in community.

Of Humility [Section II]

Humility is not an emotional state, but a life orientation; an attitude enfleshed in the service of others.

The Second Degree of Humility is that a man loves not his own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires but by his deeds carries out that word of the Lord which says: "I came not to do My own will but the will of Him that sent Me" (John 6:38). It is likewise said: "Self-will has its punishment, but constraint wins the crown."[xv]

This is the core of the issue. The surrender of the will is a difficult challenge, and that surrender has to be carried over into action, into concrete deeds. Surrender is not a mere passive giving up, but a surrender into obedient action. We are to do the will of Him who sends us, not just verbalize about it. That will inevitably lead us into proclamation and the service of others.

Further St. Benedict tells us that ‘Self-will has its punishment.” There is a very practical point here. Most of the trouble we get ourselves into is the result of a bull-headed plowing ahead and stubbornly doing our own thing. We need to accept constraints on our willfulness and on our actions. The surrender of the will entails limitations on our will, and our acknowledgment that we are willing to accept those limitations.

The Third Degree of Humility is, that for the love of God a man submits himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says: "He became obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8).

Surrender and humility are not lived out in a comfortable vacuum. Each of us is accountable to someone else, whether or not we like the idea. In the context of the Monastery or the Abbey it is the Prioress or the Abbot; but Oblates also are accountable. We are accountable to each other, to our bosses, to our parish priest, to our bishop. In a very practical way husbands are accountable to their wives, and wives are accountable to their husbands. Without accountability there is no true community.

The attitude of humility and its complex relationships to those in authority is clearly revealed in St. Benedict’s Chapter, ‘The Assignment of Impossible Tasks to a Brother’.

“If it happens that difficult or impossible tasks are laid on a brother, let him nevertheless receive the order of the one in authority with all meekness and obedience. But if he sees that the weight of the burden altogether exceeds the limit of his strength, let him submit the reasons for his inability to the one who is over him in a quiet way and at an opportune time, without pride, resistance, or contradiction.  And if after these representations the Superior still persists in his decision and command, let the subject know that this is for his good, and let him obey out of love, trusting in the help of God.” [xvi]

The Fourth Degree of Humility is that if hard and distasteful things are commanded, even if suffering is involved, he accepts these things with patience and even temper, and does not grow weary or give up, but holds out, as the Scripture says: "He that perseveres to the end shall be saved" (Mt 10:22). And again: "Let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord" (Ps 27:14).

What kind of hard and distasteful things might a monk be commanded to do? Everything from cleaning the bathroom, to mucking out the stable. All of us have things in our homes and in our jobs that are both necessary and unpleasant; but we are to accept these things with patience, even if they entail a little suffering on our part. I suspect that many of the sufferings we endure in such circumstances have to do more with pride, than hard work.

The surrender of the will is easy when there are no immediate circumstances that overwhelm either the Monastic or the Oblate.  It is difficult for the Oblate, very difficult, in the midst of impending conflicts, where the desires and pressure of the world around him call for a surrender of one’s material possessions, pride, and relationships.  The Monastic at least theoretically has already surrendered such things in taking his final vows.

And another passage shows that a faithful man should even bear every disagreeable thing for the Lord, saying with the voice of those who suffer: "For Your sake we suffer death all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter" (Rom 8:36; Ps 44:22). And secure in the hope of the divine reward, they go on joyfully, saying: "But in all these things we overcome because of Him that who loved us" (Rom 8:37).

In whatever suffering we endure, even in laboring at unpleasant mundane tasks; we have the unique privilege of uniting our small sufferings with the suffering of Christ on our behalf. St. Paul well understood the principle saying, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” [Colossians 1:24]. While we may not be called to Paul’s ministry, the same principle holds true in the everyday sufferings that many Christians have on behalf of their own families, parishes, and in their places of employment. 

And likewise in another place the Scripture says: "You, O God, have proved us; You have tried us by fire as silver is tried; You have brought us into a net, You have laid afflictions on our back" (Ps 66: 10-11).

Human relationships are the crucible in which Christian personality is shaped. Charles Williams tells us one of the important facets of love,

Christian lovers, who have considered within themselves the nature of Love, will have known from the beginning that there is another side to the early delight.  To them it is a place of purgation as well as joy; it is in truth a little universe of place and time, of earth, of purgatory, of heaven or hell.  The companion in this experience is to him or to her the instrument of fire which shall burn away his corrupt part. . .

Love is Holiness and Divine Indignation; the placidity of an ordinary married life is the veil of a spiritual passage into profound things.  Nor is this all; the lover knows himself also to be the cross upon which the Beloved is to be stretched, and so she also of her lover.[xvii]

Christian Marriage is a Covenant relationship that is grounded on the Biblical principles governing that relationship. Marriage is a Covenant, a commitment that we intend to carry out through life. All relationships have their ups and downs. The Covenant is a three-fold commitment; a commitment to each other, and a commitment to God whose love informs and strengthens our relationship and commitment. This not only true of marriage, it is in large part also true of all relationships. Even friends suffer with friends, and suffer for friends, and ultimately count it a joy.

And to show us that we ought to be under a Superior, the Psalmist continues, saying: "You have set men over our heads" (Ps 66:12). And those who are patient under hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the command of the Lord by patience also in adversities and injuries. When struck on the one cheek they turn also the other; the despoiler of their coat they give their cloak also; and when forced to go one mile they go two (Mt 5:39-41); with the Apostle Paul they bear with false brethren and "bless those who curse them" (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14).

St. Benedict returns to the theme of obedience to a Superior; in this case obedience to a Superior who might even increase our adversities and injuries. Not all the men, or all women, who have been set over our heads, are pleasant people. How we treat them while they are our Superiors is important. To return abuse for abuse is not what St. Benedict has in mind. Quite the opposite! He does not speak of the options people may have in changing jobs. That is another issue.

The Fifth Degree of Humility is, that one does not hide from his Abbot any of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart, or the evils committed by him in secret, but humbly confesses them. Concerning this the Scripture exhorts us, saying: "Commit your way to the Lord and trust in Him" (Ps 37:5). And it says further: "Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever" (Ps 106: 1; Ps 118:1). And the Prophet likewise says: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps 32:5).

In tight monastic communities everyone is theoretically heading in the same direction, towards Christ and towards transformation into His image; at least that is the expectation. Oblates cannot always make that assumption in parish Churches, or on the job, or in families; so Oblates have a challenge that has to be tailored to their particular calling.

First, it is important not to have secrets that you have never shared with someone who is trustworthy. The Book of Common Prayer recommends that we find “a wise and understanding priest,” The qualification in interesting because the implication is that not all priests are necessarily wise and understanding. Humility requires that we have a place of openness. Hiddenness leads to hiding our flaws beneath unwarranted pride. From “An Exhortation” in the Book of Common Prayer,

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.[xviii]

Second, humility is: “Knowing who you are before God, and knowing your place in His world.”[xix] Self-knowledge is a fundamental part of humility; but so also is the acceptance that comes from knowing that you are neither better or worse than any other Christian. One of the features of Confession and Absolution is, that at the end of the Confession the Priest says, “Go in peace, and pray for me a sinner.”[xx]

Of Humility [Section III]

The first five degrees of humility focus on the core issues of self-discovery and surrender. In the following degrees of humility St. Benedict strikes a hard blow at our attitudes.

The Sixth Degree of Humility is, when a monk is content with the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him holds himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: "I am brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I am always with Thee" (Ps 73:22-23).

In a society like ours where people strive for the best of everything, this is hard medicine to take, but I wonder if our society is much different from the society of St. Benedict’s time. The chapter of the Rule on ‘Artisans in the Monastery’, and quick survey of 6th Century Italian art reveals the love of quality in St. Benedict’s time. St. Benedict multiplies our difficulty by bluntly telling us to stop looking for praise for our labors. That is not to say that the Rule does not honour quality in workmanship or art, but St. Benedict approaches it from an entirely different angle. One should seek the best and produce the best for the love of God, and in both his prescriptions for work, tools, clothing and other things he does not stint in providing the best available for his monks, but he is insistent that his monks, and we as Oblates, should not hang our hearts on either material things or on praise.

The Seventh Degree of Humility is, when, not only with his tongue he declares, but also in his inmost soul believes, that he is the lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: "But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps 22:6). "I have been exalted and humbled and confounded" (Ps 88:15). And also: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments" (Ps 119:71).

In the seventh degree of humility he expands on the theme of the previous step, saying in effect, “Don’t puff yourself up!” You are not better than any other monk, nor I might add, not any worse; the latter being as much a temptation as the former. St. Benedict does not want his monks vying with each other for position, because self-centered competitiveness can be destructive to a community.

The Eighth Degree of Humility is, when a monk does nothing but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of his elders.

In the monastery, in the community of Oblates, and in the Church, there are parameters that must be followed in order to protect the identity and fabric of the community. Importing dynamics from other sources can be destructive to the community ethos. As Benedictines we treasure balance in all things. If someone attempts to bring in harsh ascetical practices from some other place, or lax attitudes from another, the community will be damaged.  If you want to be a Benedictine, learn the ways of St. Benedict, don’t presume to import your own stuff from somewhere else.

The Ninth Degree of Humility is, when a monk withholds his tongue from speaking, and keeping silence doth not speak until he is asked; for the Scripture shows that "in a multitude of words there shall no lack of sin" (Proverbs 10:19); and that "a talkative man is not established in the earth" (Ps 140:11).

The English Standard version of the proverb says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” That does get to the heart of the matter. The talkative man loses focus, fails to hear what others are saying, and is trapped in his own agendas. The talkative man often is so eager to speak that while the other is talking, he is not listening, but rather thinking about what witty thing he might say next.

The Tenth Degree of Humility is, when a monk is not easily moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: "The fool exalts his voice in laughter" (Sir 21:23).

St. Benedict is cautious about laughter for a reason, but he is also biblically informed and wants us to keep the balance in all things. “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22). What is the issue? Experience shows us that telling jokes can be a tricky thing. I have discovered an interesting dynamic. If you tell a good clean joke in a group, it will not long before someone comes up with a joke that is off colour. Underlying our propensity for joking is our very real need for joy. “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright” (Psalm 33:1).

The Eleventh Degree of Humility is, that, when a monk speaks, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: "The wise man is known by the fewness of his words."

While the quote above about the wise man is not identified, the theme is also a New Testament theme. St. James says, “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless” (James 1:26). St. Paul also agrees with this, saying, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4). Again, St. James says, “So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).  

The Twelfth Degree of Humility is, when a monk is not only humble of heart, but always lets it appear also in his whole exterior to all that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: "Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven" (Lk 18:13); and again with the Prophet: "I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly" (Ps 38:7-9).

What was acceptable in St. Benedict’s age, would be posturing in ours. True humility is reflected in the way we present ourselves to others. The way you talk, the way you walk, and the way you dress should not be garish, either by putting on an artificially abject appearance, or an unduly flashy one. Either extreme says, “Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.” St. Benedict is calling for modesty in dress and demeanor, and modesty is at a premium in our culture. True humility is not to be found in appearing to be what we are not. Humility is: “Knowing who you are before God, and knowing your place in His world.”  Self-knowledge is a fundamental part of humility; but so also is the acceptance that comes from knowing that you are neither better or worse than any other Christian. The way you talk, the way you walk, and the way you dress should reflect what you are as child of God.

Conclusion: Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God, which being perfect, casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18). In virtue of this love all things which at first he observed not without fear, he will now begin to keep without any effort, and as it were, naturally by force of habit, no longer from the fear of hell, but from the love of Christ, from the very habit of good and the pleasure in virtue. May the Lord be pleased to manifest all this by His Holy Spirit in His laborer now cleansed from vice and sin.

In the twelfth degree of humility St. Benedict has just finished saying, “Sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment seat of God;” but now he points out that the fear of hell is at best a temporary motivation, and the only true motivation is doing things for the love of Christ, and for the “very habit of good, and the pleasure in virtue.” “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

Underlying this shift from fear to love is a very human dynamic. It is often impossible for people to learn to live by the love of God unless they have been stung enough times by the result of living for self. When we clearly discover the painful results of self-centered living we are on the way to discovering the love of God who accepts and forgives us for the sake of Christ. It is then that we begin to do things for the love of Christ, rather than out of fear.

[i] Care has been taken to verify all Scripture citations so that they may be found easily, and in some cases the text has been modified to conform to the English Standard or Revised Standard Versions for clarity.
[ii] The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration:  http://www.benedictinesisters.org/content.php?pageid=5&secid=2&subsecid=5
[iii] Proverbs 1:7
[iv] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain
[v] Hebrews 12:28-29 
[vi] 1 Corinthians 10:13
[vii] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 211
[viii] Psalm 139:1-4 
[ix] RB, Ch. V, verse 1
[x] Ibid
[xi] Romans 13:1-2 
[xii] St. Vincent of Lerins, The Vincentian Canon, “Now in the Catholic Church itself we take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all. That is truly and properly 'Catholic,' as is shown by the very force and meaning of the word, which comprehends everything almost universally. We shall hold to this rule if we follow universality [i.e. oecumenicity], antiquity, and consent. We shall follow universality if we acknowledge that one Faith to be true which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is clear that our ancestors and fathers proclaimed; consent, if in antiquity itself we keep following the definitions and opinions of all, or certainly nearly all, bishops and doctors alike.
[xiii] Luke 12:32 "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
[xiv] Psalm 50:20-21  
[xv] Acta Martyrum
[xvi] The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 68
[xvii]   Charles Williams, Outlines of Romantic Theology, ed. Alice Mary Hatfield, (Berkeley, CA: The Apocryphile Press,  2005), p. 23. 
[xviii] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 317
[xix] The wit and wisdom of Sister Bede
[xx] BCP p. 448