HUMILITY FOR ST BENEDICT
In the year 480 a twin boy and girl were. born into a noble Roman family in southern Italy. Sharing the same womb, they were also destined to share the struggle for virtue and, at the end, their bodies were to share the same tomb while their souls dwelt together in Paradise. Of their infancy little is known, but even as youths St. Benedict and St. Scholastica began to turn their backs on the amusements of the world.
At the age of 14 his parents sent Benedict to Rome to be educated in the fine arts. In the capital the boy discovered that most of his peers had given themselves up to lives of silliness, vanity, and vice. The shallowness of this frightened him, and so he left Rome, vowing to seek his salvation in solitude.
About 40 miles from Rome, in a remote desert-like place called Subiaco. he was sent by a monk, St. Romanus, who understood his longing for salvation and offered to help him. He encouraged the boy to settle in a nearby cave where, for three years, he lived in complete anonymity, solitude, and silence. On certain days the monks would lower a loaf of bread on a rope, but otherwise St. Benedict had no contact with the outside world.
Eventually, shepherds discovered him. Seeing that he was a servant of the true God, many of them converted to Christianity. According to the Saint's life, "by this means his life began to be famous in the country, and many did resort unto him, bringing with them necessaries for his body, while they received from his lips the food of life."
But true victory does not come without struggle and warfare, and soon the enemy of our salvation drew close to St. Benedict, tempting him more strongly than anything he had ever before experienced: "For the remembrance of a woman he had once seen was presented to his fancy by the Wicked Spirit, and so strongly was he inflamed with lustful desires that, nearly overcome, he was about to leave the wilderness. Suddenly, through God's grace, he came to himself and, seeing nearby a thicket of nettles and briars, he threw off his garments and cast himself naked into the midst of those sharp thorns, where he roiled himself so long that, when he rose up, his body was pitifully torn. Thus, by means of wounds in his flesh be cured the wounds of his soul. From that time forth, as he himself told his followers, he was free of this temptation. Henceforth, many began to leave the world and place themselves under his direction. Being now free from vice, he worthily deserved to be made a master of: virtue."
In time, St. Benedict established no fewer than 12 monasteries, the most famous of which is Mount Cassino. Here, a temple to the pagan god Apollo had stood. A multitude of heathen offered sacrifice until the Saint approached, threw down the idol, and built a chapel. On Mount Cassino, through continual preaching and prayer, he was able to bring many people to Christ.
Not only was St. Benedict a great missionary, man of prayer, and spiritual director of souls, but God also vouchsafed him the grace of wonderworking. Thus, he was able to cast out demons from those possessed, had the gift of prophecy, could read human hearts and thoughts, cure the sick, and miraculously provide money for the poor, but most wonderful of all, he also raised the dead! However, one miracle performed by his sister St. Scholastica should be related in full, as it demonstrates the simplicity and single mindedness of these twin saints:
"His sister Scholastica, who was consecrated to God from her very childhood, used to come once a year to see him, unto whom the Saint would go to a house not far from the gate. She came one day, according to her custom, and her venerable brother likewise came, with his disciples. After they had spent the whole day in the praise of God and pious conversation, the night drawing on they took their meal together. As they were yet sitting at table, his sister entreated him saying, I beseech you, leave me not this night, that we may talk until morning of the joys of the heavenly life.' To this he answered, 'What is this you say, sister? By no means can I stay out of my monastery.'
"At this moment the sky was calm, and not a cloud was to be seen. The holy woman, therefore, hearing her brother's refusal, clasped her hands together upon the table and, bowing her head upon them, she prayed to Almighty God. As she raised up her head from the table there began such a violent lightning and thunder, with such abundant rain, that neither venerable Benedict nor his brethren could put foot out of doors...
"Then the man of God... was sad and began to say, 'God Almighty forgive you, sister; what is this you have done?” She answered, “I prayed you to stay and you would not hear me; I prayed to Almighty God and He heard me. Now, therefore, if you can, go forth to the monastery and leave me.' But he, not able to go forth, was forced to stay. Thus it happened that they spent the night in vigil and were content with spiritual conversation about heavenly matters.
"The next day the venerable woman returned to her cloister and the man of God to his monastery. Three days later, while standing in his cell, he saw the soul of his sister depart out of her body and, in the form of a dove, ascend and enter into the celestial mansions. Rejoicing to see her great glory, he gave thanks to God in hymns and praises and announced her death to the brethren. He sent them to bring her body to the monastery and caused it to be buried in the same tomb that he had prepared for himself. By means of this it happened that, as their minds were always one in God, so also their bodies were not separated in their burial."
St. Benedict, the great patriarch of Western monks, reposed on March 21, 543. Six days earlier he foretold his death and asked that his grave be prepared. On the sixth day he asked to be carried into the chapel "where he armed himself for his going forth by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord." Then, showing the power of his soul over his body, even at the last moment, "he stood up, his hands lifted towards heaven, and with words of prayer at last breathed forth his soul."
That same day, two monks at different places saw a path stretching from the Saint's cell towards heaven, and shining with innumerable lights. A beautiful man (apparently an angel) stood above and said to them: "This is the path by which the beloved of the Lord, Benedict, ascended to heaven."
St. Benedict was a brilliant light to the world not only because of his miracles and the asceticism of his life, but also because of his teachings. He wrote a rule for monks "which is distinguished for its wonderful discretion and clearness of thought." The purpose of this "Rule" was to order the spiritual and physical activities of a monk so that he might be a true soldier of Christ. But in addition, the "Rule" describes twelve degrees or "steps" to humility. Those familiar with the ascetic writings of Eastern saints and Fathers--particularly the “Ladder” of St. John--will naturally find this quite familiar. But St. Benedict's "ladder" should be briefly outlined here because of its suitability for all true Christian men and women, regardless of their station, for all Christians wish to ascend the ladder of salvation to Christ.
THE STEPS OF HUMILITY
1) The first step towards humility is fear of God and remembrance of Him in all things that we do.
2) Secondly, the struggler must not love to do his own will, but follow instead the example of the Saviour: "I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me."
3) We must be obedient to God and His Church, in all things great and small.
4) The struggler must be patient, enduring everything that comes to him.
5) We must not hide our sins, but eagerly confess them.
6) One who seeks humility must be content with the poorest and worst of everything,
7) We must consider ourselves as lower than anyone else.
8) We should not seek to be "different" from others; we should do only what is needful, following the example of the saints.
9) The humble man learns to restrain his tongue.
10) We must be serious-minded, not frivolous or silly.
11) Our words to others should be few, and covered with gentleness.
12) Real humility appears first in the heart; then it shows itself in our outward behaviour, whether we are working or resting.
Among Orthodox Christians there was never any need to use the "Rule" of St. Benedict, for the teachings of this "Rule" were always alive in the monastic tradition of the East, from where, indeed, they originally came to St. Benedict. Therefore, one may say that St. Benedict's Rule was preserved in spirit in the Orthodox east, just as was the memory of the Saint himself, whose feast is still kept by the Orthodox on March 14. The ideal of a hidden life of labor and solitude remained continually alive in the Orthodox Church, blossoming like a flower in the desert. In this same spirit, St. Benedict's Rule, with its emphasis on virtue and repentance rather than organization, contained the very essence of Christ's teachings about other-worldliness.
Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it, and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. (Luke 17:33).
St. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome, recorded the life of St. Benedict from which we have quoted above. St. Benedict reposed when St. Gregory was only three years old, but the monastic Saint's successor. Abbot Constantine, as well as three other abbots. all of them disciples of Bt. Benedict, shared their eyewitness accounts with St. Gregory.
HUMILITY ACCORDING TO DO WITH SAINT JOSEPHMARIA
Allow me to remind you that among other evident signs of a lack of humility are:
Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say
Always wanting to get your own way
Arguing when you are not right or — when you are — insisting stubbornly or with bad manners
Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so
Despising the point of view of others
Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan
Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own
Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation
Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you
Making excuses when rebuked
Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you
Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you
Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you
Refusing to carry out menial tasks
Seeking or wanting to be singled out
Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige…
Being ashamed of not having certain possessions…
St. Josemaria, pray for us!
Additional Quotes of the Fathers on Humility
|The Publican and the Pharisee|
An [Elder] was asked, "What is humility?" and he said in reply, "Humility is a great work, and a work of God. The way of humility is to undertake bodily labour and believe yourself a sinner and make yourself subject to all." Then a brother said, "What does it mean, to be subject to all?" The [Elder] answered, "To be subject to all is not to give your attention to the sins of others but always to give your attention to your own sins and to pray without ceasing to God."
An [Elder] said, "Every time a thought of superiority or vanity moves you, examine your conscience to see if you have kept all the commandments, whether you love your enemies, whether you consider yourself to be an unprofitable servant and the greatest sinner of all. Even so, do not pretend to great ideas as though you were perfectly right, for that thought destroys everything."
As Abba Macarius was returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm-leaves, the devil met him with a sharp sickle and would have struck him but he could not. He cried out, "Great is the violence I suffer from you, Macarius, for when I want to hurt you, I cannot. But whatever you do, I do and more also. You fast now and then, but I am never refreshed by any food; you often keep vigil, but I never fall asleep. Only in one thing are you better than I am and I acknowledge that." Macarius said to him, "What is that?" and he replied, "It is because of your humility alone that I cannot overcome you."
The [Elders] used to say, "When we do not experience warfare, we ought so much the more to humiliate ourselves. For God seeing our weakness, protects us; when we glorify ourselves, he withdraws his protection and we are lost."
"...true humility does not say humble words, nor does it assume humble looks, it does not force oneself either to think humbly of oneself, or to abuse oneself in self-belittlement. Although all such things are the beginning, the manifestations and the various aspects of humility, humility itself is grace, given from above. There are two kinds of humility, as the holy fathers teach: to deem oneself the lowest of all beings and to ascribe to God all one's good actions. The first is the beginning, the second the end."
St. Gregory of Sinai
(Texts on Commandments and Dogmas no. 115)
"...we have never achieved anything good on our own, but all good things are ours from God by grace, and come as it were from nothingness into being. For 'what do you have which you did not receive?' asks St. Paul - receive, that is, freely from God; 'and if you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it' (I Cor. 4:7), but had achieved it by yourself? Yet by yourself you cannot achieve anything, for the Lord has said: 'Without Me, you can do nothing' (John 15:5)."
St. Peter of Damascus
(Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 176)
"A characteristic of those who are still progressing in blessed mourning is temperance and silence of the lips; and of those who have made progress – freedom from anger and patient endurance of injuries; and of the perfect – humility, thirst for dishonors, voluntary craving for involuntary afflictions, non- condemnation of sinners, compassion even beyond one’s strength. The first are acceptable, the second laudable; but blessed are those who hunger for hardship and thirst for dishonor, for they shall be filled with the food whereof there can be no satiety."
St. John Climacus
“The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step 7: On Joy-Making Mourning
"A man who is truly humble is not troubled when he is wronged and he says nothing to justify himself against the injustice, but he accepts slander as truth; he does not attempt to persuade men that he is calumniated, but he begs forgiveness."
St. Isaac the Syrian - The Ascetical Homilies
"A person who suffers bitterly when slighted or insulted should recognize from this that he still harbors the ancient serpent in his breast. If he quietly endures the insult or responds with great humility, he weakens the serpent and lessens its hold. But if he replies acrimoniously or brazenly, he gives it strength to pour its venom into his heart and to feed mercilessly on his guts. In this way the serpent becomes increasingly powerful; it destroys his soul's strength and his attempts to set himself right, compelling him to live for sin and to be completely dead to righteousness."
St. Symeon the New Theologian
(Practical and Theological Texts no. 31)
"Abba John [the Dwarf] said, "Who sold Joseph" A brother replied saying, "It was his brethren." The old man said to him, "No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, "I am their brother" and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt."
The Desert Fathers
"Abba Poemen said, "As the breath which comes out of his nostrils, so does a man need humility and the fear of God."
The Desert Fathers
"An angel fell from heaven without any other passion except pride, and so we may ask whether it is possible to ascend to Heaven by humility alone, without any other of the virtues."
St. John Climacus
"The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978),STEP 23: On Mad Pride, and, in the Same Step, on Unclean Blasphemous Thoughts
"At the Last Judgment the righteous will be recognized only by their humility and their considering themselves worthless, and not by good deeds, even if they have done them. This is the true attitude."
St. Peter of Damascus
"Behold, this is the true and the Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won."
St. John of the Ladder
"Consider well, brethren, how great is the power of humility. Consider how great is the spiritual energy behind saying, `Pardon me.' Why is the devil called not only `enemy,' but also `adversary'? He is called `enemy' because he is a hater of man, one who hates what is good, a traitor; and `adversary,' because he always puts obstacles in the way of good. If someone wants to pray he puts obstacles in the way through evil suspicions, shameful thoughts, and spiritual torpor. If a man wants to give alms he obstructs it through avarice or procrastination. If a man wants to keep vigil he obstructs it with hesitations or laziness. In every single thing he is against us when we desire to do good. This is why he is called the enemy and the adversary and why, by lowliness, all his attacks and devices are brought to nothing."
St. Dorotheos of Gaza - Discourses and Sayings
"Extirpate two thoughts within thyself: do not consider thyself worthy of anything great, and do not think that any other man is much lower than thou in worthiness. Learn humblemindedness beforehand, which the Lord commanded in word and showed forth in deed. Hence, do not expect obedience from others, but be ready for obedience thyself."
St. Basil the Great
"For this reason the Lord calls blessed those who are opposed to worldly possessions, saying: `Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Why to the words, `Blessed are the poor,' does He add, `in spirit'? So that by this would be shown that He considers blessedness to be the humility of the soul. Why did He not say, blessed are the poor-spirited - and thus would be demonstrated the humility of thinking - but rather He says, `poor in spirit'? By this He wants to teach us that bodily poverty is also a blessedness, in that through this one can receive the kingdom of heaven, when it is done for the sake of the humility of the soul. This is the case when bodily poverty is united with the humility of the soul and when it is for the person the principle of the humility of the soul. Having called blessed `those poor in spirit,' He demonstrated in a wonderful way what are the root and cause of the visible poverty of the saints - that is, their spirit."
St. Gregory Palamas - Treatise on the Spiritual Life
"God descends to the humble as waters flow down from the hills into the valleys."
St. John of Kronstadt
"What made our Lord Jesus Christ lay aside his garments, gird himself with a towel, and, pouring water into a basin, begin to wash the feet of those who were below Him (John 13:4, etc.), if not to teach us humility? For it was humility He showed us by example of what He then did. And indeed those who want to be accepted into the foremost rank cannot achieve this otherwise than through humility; for in the beginning the thing that caused downfall from heaven was a movement of pride. So, if a man lacks extreme humility, if he is not humble with all his heart, all his mind, all his spirit, all his soul and body - he will not inherit the kingdom of God."
St Anthony the Great
"Early Fathers From the Philokalia," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, (London: Faber and Faber, 1954), pp. 45-46
"Let all who are led by the spirit of God enter with us into this spiritual and wise assembly, holding in their spiritual hands the God-inscribed tablets of knowledge. We have come together, we have investigated, and we have probed the meaning of this precious inscription. And one man said: “It (humility) means constant oblivion of one’s achievements.” Another: “It is the acknowledgement of oneself as the last of all and the greatest sinner of all.” And another: “The mind’s recognition of one’s weakness and impotence.” Another again: “In fits of rage, it means to forestall one’s neighbor and be first to stop the quarrel.” And again another: “Recognition of Divine grace and divine compassion.” And again another: “The feeling of a contrite soul, and the renunciation of one’s own will.” But when I had listened to all this and had attentively and soberly investigated it, I found that I had not been able to attain to the blessed perception of that virtue from what had been said. Therefore, last of all, having gathered what fell from the lips of those learned and blessed fathers as a dog gathers the crumbs that fall from the table, I too gave my definition of it and said: “Humility is a nameless grace in the soul, its name known only to those who have learned it by experience. It is unspeakable wealth, a name and gift from God, for it is said: “learn not from an angel, nor from man, nor from a book, but from Me, that is, from My indwelling, from My illumination and action in you; for I am meek and humble in heart and in thought and in spirit, and your soul shall find rest from conflicts and relief from thoughts.” (Matthew 11:29)"
St. John Climacus
"The Ladder of Divine Ascent," (Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1978), Step25: On the Destroyer of the Passions, Most Sublime Humility, Which is rooted in Spiritual Perception
"Make account that thou hast done nothing, and then thou hast done all. For if, being sinners, when we account ourselves to be what we are, we become righteous, as indeed the Publican did; how much more, when being righteous we account ourselves to be sinners."
St John Chrysostom
HOMILY III., MATT. I. 1
MASTER, TO WHOM SHALL WE GO, YOU HAVE THE WORDS OF ETERNAL LIFE
August 22, 2015 by Deacon Greg Kandra
my source for the icon: Vultus Chriisti
my source: Patheos Blog, "Deacon's Bench."
It could be one of the most important questions you ask yourself:
Why are you Catholic?
What keeps you coming back here week after week, year after year?
In a time when so many other faiths are out there, offering what they claim is an easier, less difficult path to God—including a church right down the street that is promising free coffee and candy every Sunday morning—what draws you here? What makes you accept teachings that are hard, and pews that are sometimes harder, and obligations that are difficult and sacrifices that you’d rather skip?
Why here? Why not somewhere else?
A lot of us might answer like Peter in the gospel we just heard:
“Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Ask people, and some will tell you they are drawn by the liturgies, the sacraments, the history, the timeless moral teaching or the certainty that this is the church of the apostles and of countless saints. As a tee shirt puts it: “Catholicism. Founded 33 A.D.”
But the answer of one woman I know strikes me as especially meaningful, particularly in light of the readings we’ve been hearing for the last few weeks.
The woman’s name is Kelley Cutler. She’s a social worker in San Francisco, who works with the homeless—particularly homeless youths, and especially those who identify as LGBT, Lesbian Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual. By one estimate, up to 40% of the teenage homeless in San Francisco fall into that group. Many are runaways. Some have been shunned by their families. Others are victims of abuse. They have no place to turn, no place to live. Some turn to prostitution. Kelly Cutler helps them find safety, sanctuary, and hope.
Kelley herself is gay. But she is also an obedient Catholic, faithful to Church teachings, and she is head-over-heels in love with Jesus Christ.
She became Catholic in 2009. In a recent interview, she said:
“To be honest, I wasn’t looking to become Catholic, but I had always longed for a spiritual connection. It’s a long crazy story,” she explained, “but basically I was drawn to the Church by the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.”
She went on:
“As you can imagine, the work I do can be extremely intense and draining. Holding onto hope can be a huge challenge when the harsh reality of suffering and death is part of your daily experience. This is why I attend Mass on a daily basis. That is where I find my hope and strength to be able to do this work. It’s directly connected. I also go to Adoration with my favorite cloistered nuns up in Haight/Ashbury. They are my prayer warriors praying for me and the work I do.”
And she added:
“As a convert, I have a tendency to ask a lot of questions. One question I’ve asked most LGBT Catholics I’ve met is… “Why do you stay in the Church?” Think about it, they could go right down the street to another faith community that has different teachings. So why do they stay? I have been given the same answer by every LGBT Catholic I’ve met. The Eucharist.”
The Eucharist. The Eucharist.
This is what draws them, what keeps them, what gives them hope. The Bread of Life. “Master to whom shall we go?” There is nowhere else to go. For any of us. In our weakness, in our folly, in our pride, there is no other sanctuary or salvation. In a world haunted by sin and death we need the Bread of Life.
Again and again over the last few weeks, St. John’s gospel has challenged us, jolted us, encouraged us, convicted us. The “Bread of Life discourse” has reminded us of the gift we have been given. What began with a miraculous feeding on a hillside in Galilee continues here and now, 2,000 years later. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord, the psalmist proclaims. The goodness is here. It is now. It is something we cradle in our palms, and receive on our tongues. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Taste, and believe. The Christ who was present to the multitudes in a mystery no one could understand is present with us again, at every Eucharist, at every Mass, in ways we cannot completely understand but in a way that the heart and soul can’t deny.
So: Why are you Catholic?
How could any of us be anything else?
The irony, of course, is that none of us is worthy of the gift we are about to receive. “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” The prayer we make at every Mass, the prayer we carry with us in the communion line, is that we will be made more worthy, that our souls will be healed, that we can somehow be acceptable vessels to carry Christ in our hearts, in our bodies and into the world. We pray for the grace to “glorify the Lord by our lives.” We pray to turn away from our sin. We pray for God’s mercy to help make it so.
Christ’s first disciples—flawed fishermen full of ignorance and pride, doubt and greed— knew they were not worthy. But they also knew they had nowhere else to go. They had faith. And they had hope.
Their story is our story. It is, after all, part of the greatest story ever told—and it is still being told. It is up to us to pass it on.
Why are we Catholic?
Where else can we go? What else can we possibly be? We have Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist.
And not only are we hungry to receive him; we also yearn to make his presence known to others, that they might also receive him, that we might say to them as it has been said to us:
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!