CHAPTER VII. Of Humility
The second degree of humility is, that a man love not his own will, nor delight in fulfilling his own desires; but carry out in his deeds that saying of the Lord: “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent me.” And again Scripture saith: “Self-will hath punishment, but necessity wins the crown.” *
31 Jan. 1 June. 1 Oct.
The third degree of humility is, that a man for the love of God submit himself to his superior in all obedience; imitating the Lord, of Whom the apostle saith: “He was made obedient even unto death.”
Given so many unforeseen circumstances, I was unable to give the Chapter yesterday. I shall, therefore, put the second and third degrees of humility together today. The second and third degrees are, in any event, closely related. Both constitute a monk’s real participation in Our Lord’s κένωσις, that is, in His exinanitio, His ennothingment, His self-emptying obedience. The second degree of humility is brought home when we rephrase it in three imperatives:
Love not your own will.
Delight not in fulfilling your own desires.
Carry out in your deeds that saying of the Lord, “I came not to do mine own will, but the will of Him Who sent me” (John 6:38).
Attachment to one’s own will springs from pride, or from insecurity, or from fear, or from a compulsion to control people, things, and events. The prideful man says, “I understand things rightly. I see things that others do not see. I am more intelligent, more intuitive, more prudent, and better informed than my abbot and my brethren. Therefore, I must prevail over them.” The insecure man says, “I cannot live with uncertainty, in the dread of losing what I have, or with the prospect of unknown sufferings before me. Therefore, I must seize control of things and protect myself from losses, humiliations, and challenges.” The fearful man says, “I am threatened on all sides by loss, pain, failure, rejection, criticism, and loneliness. Therefore I must be ‘the master of my fate, the captain of my soul.'”
In my experience, an underlying attitude of disobedience—resistance to ‘the listening that changes life,’ to use Saint John Paul II’s definition of monastic obedience—springs not from wanton rebelliousness, nor from ill will, nor from hatred of authority, but rather from pride, insecurity, and fear. Pride itself is often driven by insecurity and fear.
A man does not become obedient overnight. It sometimes happens that a brother may appear outwardly to be a model of obedience, but what looks like obedience may be mere compliance. The compliant brother performs what is asked of him, but inwardly he withholds himself from obedience and puts up a resistance to the very thing he is doing. This creates an unbearable tension in a man. Either he will, by grace and by perseverance in prayer, resolve the tension, or he will explode in angry invectives, or he will crack under it.
How did Our Lord Jesus Christ obey? More and more, I am coming to see the significance of the Agony in the Garden for monastic life. Every monk must enter his own Gethsemani. Every monk must enter into the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemani.
Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence. And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered: and being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Insofar as the monastic life is, as Saint Benedict says in the Prologue, a participation by patience in the sufferings of Christ, it must begin, and begin again and again, in Gethsemani.
And when he was come to the place, he said to them: Pray, lest ye enter into temptation. And he was withdrawn away from them a stone’s cast; and kneeling down, he prayed, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed the longer. And his sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and was come to the disciples, he found them sleeping for sorrow. And he said to them: Why sleep you? arise, pray, lest you enter into temptation. (Luke 22:40-46)
The first sorrowful mystery of the Rosary cannot be separated from the first joyful mystery of the Rosary, nor from the first glorious mystery of the Rosary. All three are mysteries of beginning. I say this today, not only because of the arrival of Michael and of Cody, but for myself and for each one of us. The monastic life will always be a convergence of new beginnings marked by the joy of the Annunciation, the agony of Gethsemani, and the glory of the Resurrection. In each of these mysteries of obedience, one can hear the utterance of Christ revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: Holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:5-7)
The third degree of humility stretches a man more than the second.
The third degree of humility is, that a man for the love of God, submit himself to his superior in all obedience; imitating the Lord, of Whom the apostle saith: “He was made obedient even unto death.”
Saint Benedict sends us here to one of the great Christological chants of Saint Paul and of the liturgy, the Christus factus est. This is a key Mectildian text as well. Mother Mectilde sees the dispossession of Our Lord in His Passion prolonged in the mystery of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in the confounding humility, and silence, and hiddenness of the Host.
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 2:7-8)
What makes the obedience of a monk so incisive, so self-emptying, so contrary to the wisdom of the world, is that it is freely given to his superior, that is, to a man like himself, to a man marked by infirmity, fallible, tempted, and limited.
But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. (1 Corinthians 1:27)
This is where the exercise of the supernatural virtue of faith comes into play, and it must. A monk’s obedience is given to Christ, but it passes through the mediation of the abbot. One may not always see Christ in the abbot. One may see all the defects of his mediation. Faith alone can go where a man’s conjectures, intuitions, assessments, and conclusions cannot go, that is, into the mystery of the obedience of Christ, which mystery is an inexhaustible wellspring of new life, of fresh beginnings, and of joy.