February 9, June 10, October 10
Chapter 7: On Humility
The twelfth degree of humility
is that a monk not only have humility in his heart
but also by his very appearance make it always manifest
to those who see him.
That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God,
in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road,
in the fields or anywhere else,
and whether sitting, walking or standing,
he should always have his head bowed
and his eyes toward the ground.
Feeling the guilt of his sins at every moment,
he should consider himself already present at the dread Judgment
and constantly say in his heart
what the publican in the Gospel said
with his eyes fixed on the earth:
“Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to lift up my eyes to heaven”
(Luke 18:13; Matt. 8:8);
and again with the Prophet:
“I am bowed down and humbled everywhere” (Ps. 37:7,9; 118:107).
Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore,
the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God
which casts out fear.
And all those precepts
which formerly he had not observed without fear,
he will now begin to keep by reason of that love,
without any effort,
as though naturally and by habit.
No longer will his motive be the fear of hell,
but rather the love of Christ,
and delight in the virtues
which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit
in His servant now cleansed from vice and sin.
Is our humility obvious in our very appearance? I can’t imagine that is that first impression I make on anyone.
I find the idea of constantly having head bowed and looking at the ground rather inconsistent with the idea of having been set free (and being set free each day from the heaviness of sin that’s promptly repented of and confessed).
I was always taught to ‘look up’ not down! – To see the wonders of God’s creation in the skies, in the countryside around me, in the faces of people met in the street. How is it edifying to gaze at a dirty pavement splattered with
trodden-in discarded chewing gum? Gazing up at the starry heavens and at all the glories of creation makes me feel humble in the presence of God.
Going round with head bowed doesn’t seem to witness to the joy and gratitude of having received salvation, grace, and endless love. Not that I want to argue with St Benedict but none of the modern Benedictine monks I’ve known have done this, nit even the three weeks I stayed in one.