To be read: January 27, May 27, September 27
The first step of humility, then, is that a man always have the fear of God before his eyes (cf Ps 35:1-2), shunning all forgetfulness 11and that he be ever mindful of all that God has commanded, that he always consider in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. 12And while he guards himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will, let him also be quick to cut off the desires of the flesh. 13Let a man consider that God always sees him from Heaven, that the eye of God observes his works everywhere, and that the angels report them to Him every hour. 14The Prophet tells us this when he shows that God is ever present in our thoughts, saying: “The searcher of hearts and minds is God”(Ps 7:10). 15And again: “The Lord knows the thoughts of men”(Ps 93:11). 16And he says: “You have understood my thoughts afar off”(Ps 138:3). 17And: “The thoughts of man shall give praise to You”(Ps 75:11). 18Therefore, in order that he may always be on his guard against evil thoughts, let the humble brother always say in his heart: “Then I shall be spotless before Him, if I shall keep myself from iniquity”(Ps 17:24).
The first step in the ladder of humility is to have the fear of God before our eyes. Nearly a third of the seventy verses of this chapter are dedicated to this first step. Why is that? Benedict is laying a foundation as well as erecting a ladder. The first step is the most important, for without it, the other steps have nothing upon which to build. St. Paul says that “no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). And that is what St. Benedict is doing. He is contrasting self-will with the will of God. We are to “be ever mindful of all that God has commanded…” We are to guard ourselves against the “vices of thought, word, deed, and self-will.” Even our thoughts, to which God is privy, must be toward God and the desire for His will.
But what does Benedict mean when he exhorts us “to have the fear of God before our eyes”? By looking at the Scripture citation accompanying the command we can see that the one who doesn’t have the fear of God “flatters himself in his own eyes”. He is proud. And his pride leads him to believe that “his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.” Benedict is declaring a warning to us all. He is reiterating the exhortation given by Moses to the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, saying, “what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord…” (Deut. 10:12-13). And the implications of walking in humble submission go far beyond our own relationship with God. St. Luke tells us that the early Church was built up in faith, “and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied” (Acts 9:32). The fear of God is a yielding of our will to His, by the grace of God’s Holy Spirit. To enter the Promised Land we must “walk in all His ways, to love Him, and to serve the Lord.”
Right relationship with God begins in humble submission to His will. It is the first step and foundation for our intimate walk in communion with God.