Chapter LVIII. Of the Discipline of Receiving Brethren into Religion
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Afterwards let him go into the Novitiate, where he is to meditate and study, to take his meals and to sleep. Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch him with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations. Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him.
This Is So Humiliating
Humiliations are circumstances, events, or conditions by which we are brought low. A man experiencing humiliation may be tempted to make any one of a number of responses. “Why is this happening to me?” “This is unjust.” “I wish that I could crawl under a rock and disappear from sight.” Humiliations may trigger feelings of anger, sadness, hopelessness, or rebellion. In what way then can humiliations be good for a man? Why should a novice accept them when they come his way? Why does Saint Benedict say that a novice must show himself fervent in humiliations?
When A Minus is a Plus
All humiliations are permitted by God or they wouldn’t happen at all. When God permits something that from our human vantage point is a minus, it is because God, from His vantage point sees it as a plus. The very thing that feels to me like it is tearing me down may, by God’s merciful providence be that by which He intends to build me up. This a mystery that the most pure Heart of Mary understood so well, that she was able to turn it into a canticle of praise:
My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. (Luke 1:46–52)
Job, Patron Saint of the Humiliated
Humiliations can come from oneself or from others. It is humiliating to fail at something; it is humiliating to be found wanting in strength, or intelligence, or beauty, or skill; it is humiliating to caught in a state of weakness or sin. It is humiliating to have to say, “I cannot do this”; or “I need help”; or “I’ve fallen and cannot get up”; or “I don’t understand this”; or “I’ve made a mistake”; or “I’ve sinned.” Job is the image of the man made humble and wise in the crucible of humiliations. In the end, Job is able to answer the Lord who permitted all that befell him:
I know that thou canst do all things, and no thought is hid from thee. Who is this that hideth counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceeded my knowledge. Hear, and I will speak: I will ask thee, and do thou tell me. With the hearing of the ear, I have heard thee, but now my eye seeth thee. Therefore I reprehend myself, and do penance in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2–6)
The Prayer of the Humiliated Man
The psalms face the problem of humiliation and turn it into prayer. The psalms provide the humiliated man, the man brought low, with just the right prayer in each of this situations. Jesus Himself, in the extreme humiliation and abjection of His Passion, had recourse to the psalms:”And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani? that is, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
My Grace Is Sufficient for Thee
Humiliations (Saint Paul calls them infirmities) are useful, and even precious, insofar as they allow a man to discover a truth about himself and a truth about God. Consider, for example, the experience of Saint Paul:
For myself I will glory nothing, but in my infirmities. For though I should have a mind to glory, I shall not be foolish; for I will say the truth. But I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth in me, or any thing he heareth from me. And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord, that it might depart from me. And he said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful. (2 Corinthians 12:5–10)
Though He Slay Me
A novice, or a monk at any stage of his life, brought low by a humiliation, will want to practice saying with the Psalmist: “It is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that I may learn thy justifications” (Psalm 118:71). Humiliations do not feel good, but they can do a man good. Humiliations can be salutary, that is to say, health–producing; they can work unto a man’s salvation. “We know,” says Saint Paul, “that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints” (Romans 8:28). God allows his chosen ones to be brought low only because His merciful design to is raise them high, and draw them to Himself in love and in glory. This one thing a novice needs to believe, hoping against hope, even when all that he is feeling tells him the contrary. “Although he should slay me, I will trust in him” (Job 13:15).