Et quasi absconditus vultus ejus et despectus

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CHAPTER VII. Of Humility

4 Feb. 5 June. 5 Oct.
The seventh degree of humility is, that he should not only call himself with his tongue lower and viler than all, but also believe himself in his inmost heart to be so, humbling himself, and saying with the prophet: "I am a worm and no man, the shame of men and the outcast of the people: I have been exalted, and cast down, and confounded." And again: "It is good for me that Thou hast humbled me, that I may learn Thy commandments."

The Abjection of Christ

Saint Benedict would have his monk live with the mystery of the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant, ever before his eyes. He quotes Psalm 21 depicting Our Lord in the humiliations of His Passion: "But I, poor worm, have no manhood left; I am a by-word to all, the laughing-stock of the rabble" (Psalm 21:6). Psalm 21 calls up Isaias' mysterious prophecy of the Passion of the Lord:

What credence for such news as ours? Whom reaches it, this new revelation of the Lord's strength? He will watch this servant of his appear among us, unregarded as brushwood shoot, as a plant in waterless soil; no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, as we gaze upon him, to win our hearts.
Nay, here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was he who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was he who bore them.
A leper, so we thought of him, a man God had smitten and brought low; and all the while it was for our sins he was wounded, it was guilt of ours crushed him down; on him the punishment fell that brought us peace, by his bruises we were healed.
Strayed sheep all of us, each following his own path; and God laid on his shoulders our guilt, the guilt of us all. A victim? Yet he himself bows to the stroke; no word comes from him. Sheep led away to the slaughter-house, lamb that stands dumb while it is shorn; no word from him. Imprisoned, brought to judgement, and carried off, he, whose birth is beyond our knowing; numbered among the living no more!
Be sure it is for my people's guilt I have smitten him. Takes he leave of the rich, the godless, to win but a grave, to win but the gift of death; he, that wrong did never, nor had treason on his lips! Ay, the Lord's will it was, overwhelmed he should be with trouble.
His life laid down for guilt's atoning, he shall yet be rewarded; father of a long posterity, instrument of the divine purpose; for all his heart's anguish, rewarded in full. The Just One, my servant; many shall he claim for his own, win their acquittal, on his shoulders bearing their guilt.
So many lives ransomed, foes so violent baulked of their spoil! Such is his due, that gave himself up to death, and would be counted among the wrong-doers; bore those many sins, and made intercession for the guilty. (Isaias 53:1-12)

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Seek Only Christ

The monk does does not seek abjection for abjection's sake; he seeks only Christ, and in finding Christ, he is led into the unfathomable depths of a God who empties Himself out, who, as Saint Paul says, "dispossesses Himself." One cannot say to the Bridegroom Christ, "Draw me after thee where thou wilt" (Song of Songs 1:3) without being led, step by step, in to the mystery of His abjection.

Yours is to be the same mind which Christ Jesus shewed. His nature is, from the first, divine, and yet he did not see, in the rank of Godhead, a prize to be coveted; he dispossessed himself, and took the nature of a slave, fashioned in the likeness of men, and presenting himself to us in human form; and then he lowered his own dignity, accepted an obedience which brought him to death, death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

Recognize That Face

The very humility that Christ freely embraced in His Passion perdures in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. There we find Him dispossessed of Himself, hidden, unrecognized by the multitudes, silent, and covered by the fragile veil of the sacred species. Isaias' portrayal of the Suffering Servant is mystically fulfilled in the Sacred Host: "Here is one despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness; how should we recognize that face? How should we take any account of him, a man so despised?" (Isaias 53:3).

A monk who spends much time before the Sacred Host will ineluctably be drawn into the divine humility that It, at once, conceals and reveals. On this point our Constitutions say;

This chapter demonstrates clearly that our blessed father possessed this virtue fully, and that the Holy Ghost, who reposed in his heart in a manner altogether divine, filled him, according to the witness of Saint Gregory, with the spirit of all the just. It was from this wellspring of light that Saint Benedict drew forth those adorable perceptions by which he guides us to the perfect emptying-out of all that is fallen in us. To this end, he enjoins us to set up a mysterious ladder, by which we descend into our nothingness and raise ourselves to God. To Him do we sacrifice the life of the senses and of the fleshly mind, so as to live no more for creatures, nor for ourselves.
This is the true humility that our blessed father Saint Benedict teaches us, and that he himself so faithfully practiced, having learned it from our adorable Saviour who tells us to learn of Him, because He is meek and humble of heart, and in Saint Paul, who says, semetipsum exinanivit. Thus did Saint Benedict learn of Christ hidden and humiliated in His life on earth, even as He is today in our tabernacles. This is the state in which monks, made over in sacrifice to Christ, must contemplate Him if they would invigorate themselves in the practice of this virtue. The Fathers assure us that humility is the ground of the perfect Christian life, and that wheresoever grace is at work, it produces humility as a certain effect of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is the principal means of abiding in His love, and of becoming true repairers of His glory.
In the contemplation of the Eucharistic mystery we will find compelling reasons for our own self-emptying, for it is not possible to see God in a kind of nothingness without casting ourselves into it after Him. For who, seeing the Divine Majesty so humbled, would be able to endure that a worm of the earth rise up in pride?


Fr Prior,

Good to see your Knox Bible getting some use!;-)

~ Br Melchesidech

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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