The first degree of humility (VII:4)

28 Jan. 29 May. 28 Sept.

We are, indeed, forbidden to do our own will by Scripture, which saith to us: turn away from thine own will. And so too we beg of God in prayer that His will may be done in us. Rightly therefore are we taught not to do our own will, if we take heed to the warning of Scripture: “There are ways which to men seem right, but the ends thereof lead to the depths of hell”; or, again, when we tremble at what is said of the careless: “They are corrupt and have become abominable in their pleasures.” And in regard to the desires of the flesh, we must believe that God is always present to us, as the prophet saith to the Lord: “O Lord, all my desire is before Thee.”

Fallen man is fiercely attached to his own will. The inclination to prefer one’s own will even to the commandments of God is part of the sad inheritance passed down to us by old Adam. It is the echo in us of the shattering Non serviam of Lucifer: “I will not serve”. There is not a man among us who is not affected by the reproach that God, through the mouth of Jeremias, addressed to His adulterous and wanton people:

It is an old tale, now, how thou didst break in pieces the yoke of my dominion, didst sever all the bonds between us, crying out, I will serve no more! Thou wast off to play the wanton, the nearest hill-top or secret forest for thy bower. (Jeremias 2:20)

There comes a time in the monastic journey, especially in the beginning and, often again, in the throes of the mid–life crisis, when one is sorely tempted to say, Non serviam, “I will not serve”. One begins to think, “I am sick of following the horarium. I loathe the sound of the bell. I want to do what I want, when I want, in the way in want. Enough of this life of of obedience, and humility, and enclosure, and stability”. (The same temptations, let it be said, afflict persons in the married state.) One becomes, at least mentally, a rebel without a cause, longing for the freedom of the open road and forgetting the words of the Lord:

Wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there are who go in thereat. How narrow is the gate, and strait is the way that leadeth to life: and few there are that find it! (Matthew 7:13–14)

One needs to recognise the origin of the rebellious impulse. Sadly, contemporary culture glamourises the rebellious impulse, as expressed by Frank Sinatra’s famous croon:

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows –
And did it my way!

Saint Benedict, in contrast, quotes the second half of Ecclesiasticus 18:30:

Post concupiscentias tuas non eas, et a voluntate tua avertere.
Go not after thy lusts, but turn away from thy own will.

Which verse Monsignor Knox astutely translates:

Do not follow the counsel of appetite; turn thy back on thy own liking.

The secular religion that glorifies «I did it my way» is not the religion of Jesus Christ, who «emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross» (Philippians 2:7–8). Our Blessed Lady did not «do it her way», nor did any of the saints «do it their way». There is but one way revealed to the man who prays with the psalmist: “Conduct me, O Lord, in thy way» (Psalm 85:11), and this is the way of the Cross:

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, and cast away himself? (Luke 9:23–25)

Saint Benedict warns that, “there are ways which to men seem right, but the ends thereof lead to the depths of hell” (Proverbs 16:25). Even pious men are subject to delusions. A monk may think that the course of action he has chosen is right, when, in fact, it may be wrong for him. This is why Saint Benedict says in the chapter Of the Observance of Lent:

Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth, and let it be done with his blessing and permission: because what is done without leave of the spiritual father shall be imputed to presumption and vain-glory, and merit no reward. Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the Abbot. (Chapter XLIX)

Saint Benedict ends this portion of Chapter VII on a note of confidence and hope: “O Lord, all my desire is before Thee” (Psalm 37:10). No matter what our selfish desires may be, God already sees them. All our desires, our thoughts, our impulses, and our regrets are an open book before Him.

My loins are filled with illusions; and there is no health in my flesh. I am afflicted and humbled exceedingly: I roared with the groaning of my heart. Lord, all my desire is before thee, and my groaning is not hidden from thee. My heart is troubled, my strength hath left me, and the light of my eyes itself is not with me. (Psalm 37:8–11)

Nothing in us surprises God. Nothing in us causes Him to withdraw His presence. On the contrary, He pursues us, even as He went looking for Adam after the fall:

And when they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in paradise at the afternoon air, Adam and his wife hid themselves from the face of the Lord God, amidst the trees of paradise. And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou? (Genesis 3:8–9)

God seeks us, even in our sin, in order that we may begin to seek Him, even in our sin. It is enough sometimes to go before the Most Blessed Sacrament and to say only this: “O Lord, all my desire is before Thee” (Psalm 37:10). One who prays in this way will, like the publican who prayed in the temple, “go down into his house justified” (Luke 18:9–14).

Add a comment