Humility and the Rule of Benedict

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Benedict, to whom is given the title of patriarch of Western monasticism because of his contributions to the development of monastic life in Europe.

Among his contributions is the Rule of Benedict, a guide for those committed to monasticism. “Rule” is a potentially misleading word. Although the work does contain certain rules legislating many details of common living, it is much more a treasure of spiritual wisdom, that has something to say to everyone, not just communities of monks. More importantly, it contains timeless wisdom that addresses many of the issues that face us today.

During my several visits to St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, as part of their Visiting Scholars Program, I listened to readings from the Rule of Benedict at the opening of Morning Prayer each day. There were many gems in those readings that I would find myself sitting with from time to time during the day. Here is one in honor of his celebration today.

In the chapter on Humility, Benedict write:

The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, our hearts quietly embrace suffering and endure it without weakening or seeking escape…
In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling God’s command: “When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two.”… With the apostle Paul, they bear with “false companions, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them.”

For Benedict, bearing bad things is, in Joan Chittister’s words, “a mark of humility, a mark of Christian maturity.” As she observes, this is “a dour and difficult notion for the modern Christian to accept.” She writes:

The goal of the twenty-first century is to cure all diseases, order all inefficiency, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas. We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot stomach delay. Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God is in the dregs of our lives. That’s why it takes humility to find God where God is not expected to be.

Benedict’s words…and Chittister’s…are good ones for us to chew on. I suspect we could all benefit from a bit more humility in our lives.