To be read: January 26, May 26, September 26
Brothers, the Holy Scripture calls to us saying: “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”(Lk 14:11; 18:14). 2In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride. 3The Prophet declares that he guards himself against this, saying: “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me”(Ps 130:1). 4What then? “I have calmed and quieted my soul; as a child that is weaned is towards his mother, so shall You reward my soul”(Ps 130:2). 5Hence, brothers, if we wish to reach the greatest height of humility, and speedily to arrive at that heavenly exaltation to which ascent is made in the present life by humility, 6then, by our actions, we must erect the ladder which appeared to Jacob in his dream, by means of which angels were shown to him ascending and descending (cf Gen 28:12). 7Without a doubt, we understand this ascending and descending to be nothing else but that we descend by pride and ascend by humility. 8The erected ladder, however, is our life in the present world, which, if the heart is humble, is by the Lord lifted up to heaven. 9For we say that our body and our soul are the two sides of this ladder; and into these sides the divine calling has inserted various steps of humility and discipline which we must mount.
These verses are the table setting for the teaching on humility. At first glance, this chapter seems extremely intimidating. There are 70 verses in this chapter, and they cover what Benedict calls 12 steps. But it is not as if Benedict is creating something new regarding how a Christian is to live. Humility is a Biblical hallmark for living life in the likeness of Christ. In these first few verses of the chapter Benedict lays the framework of the structure for the steps of what he calls the “ladder” of humility. He says, “by our [ascending] actions, we must erect the ladder”. The ladder is “our life in the present world…[and] our body and our soul are the two sides of this ladder…” into which the steps which follow in this chapter are inserted. These steps are inserted by what St. Benedict labels “the divine calling”. And it is in understanding that divine calling that we can learn to apply the teachings of this chapter.
But what is this divine calling? If the divine calling is to be a monk or a nun, then we who are dwelling in the secular world are going to be either left out or hard pressed to experience it. And so, for those of us on the outside of the monastic enclosure our calling is going to be different, and if truth be told, somewhat more difficult. For the cares of the world and the culture in which we find ourselves, which encourages selfishness and pride, are always going to weigh on and confront the Christian seeking to abide by the Gospel. As the prophet Micah states: God “has shown you…what is good…”. Then he asks, “and what does the Lord require of you?…” We are to “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). And that is the battle. Humility is accursed in this world. The humble get run over. But the model of Christ is that of one who lays down his life for others. Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). By always putting the needs of others first we enter into the promise of growing in humility. As St. Paul said, “I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think,” … “but in humility count others better than yourselves.” (Rom. 12:3; Phil. 2:3).
Our vocation, our divine calling, then is to live in harmony with Christ and in obedience to His Word and His will, re-presenting Him to the world by our “ascending actions” of humility. St. Benedict tells us in this opening to chapter 7, that we will ascend to the fulfillment of that calling through the practice of humility, and we can best do that by the steps which follow.