A Reflection on a Saying of the Desert Christians: Amma Theodora

“The holy Theodora was in the habit of telling her disciples very frequently how neither great asceticism, nor extremely hard work, nor any other sufferings whatsoever can save a man as much as true humility of the heart. She also related the following anecdote:

“A certain hermit had a gift from God to cast out evil spirits. One time he asked to learn what they feared most and what compelled them to flee.

“Perhaps it is fasting?” he asked one of them.

“We,” the evil spirit replied, “neither ever eat nor ever drink.”

“Sleepless vigils, then?”

“We do not sleep at all.”

“Flight from the world?”

“Supposedly an important thing. But we spend the greater part of our time wandering around the deserts.”

“I implore you to confess what it is that can subdue you,” insisted the elder.

“The evil spirit, compelled by a supernatural force, was pressed to answer: “Humility – which we can never overcome.”

As I read the Sayings of the Desert Christians and the words of others who also fled the world, I can’t help but notice the virtue prized above all is humility.  I can’t recall if I have ever heard a sermon about humility.  Even the humility of Jesus in Phillippians didn’t garner a lot of attention when we had that passage in church. I don’t think I ever paid humility any attention until I encountered Chapter Seven of the Rule of St. Benedict.

As I don’t believe I am a humble person, I do not dare to speak of it.  C. Lewis’ definition of humility will have to suffice and I paraphrase. He said that true humility was not pretending to be better or worse than one is.  True humility is being the person God created us to be.

So it seems that with humility, as with everything else, the closer we become to God, the more we become the person God wants us to be. We find in His embrace our true vocation, our true humility.  Because it will never be through works, as the story proves that Amma Theodora shares.


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