In Chapter Seven Benedict teaches a twelve step plan to nurture humidity. The twelve steps follow the structure of one of the perfect numbers: four and three multiplied = two perfect numbers multiplied.
Therefore consider in more detail for a moment the first four steps of humility
The first degree of humility, then, is that a person keep the fear of God before his eyes and beware of ever forgetting it…Let a man consider that God is always look at him from heaven, that his actions are everywhere visible to the divine eyes and are constantly being reported to God by the Angels.
The Book of Proverbs says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” We are so used to thinking of Jesus as our buddy and God the Father as a kind of Colonel Sanders in the sky. While God is our loving Father and Jesus is our friend and brother, we must balance this familiarity with the constant realization that Our God is also a consuming fire and the Jesus Christ is the Righteous Judge.
Furthermore, when we read the gospels the image of judgement–especially of self righteous religious people–is a constant theme. If we are to learn humility therefore we should begin by getting rid of this familiarity with the Almighty which is the symptom of a kind of complacency and presumption.
This does not mean that we must grovel on the ground like miserable worms. That would be a false kind of piety and faux humility. Instead we must remember to be reverent and responsible and ever watchful, for God is present everywhere and while he looks on us with mercy it must, for our own good, sometimes be a severe mercy, and we should remember that if we are a bit hard on ourselves it is better than being complacent and presumptuous.
The second degree of humility is that a person love not his own will nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires, but model his actions on the saying of the Lord, I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.
Do you ever stop yourself from taking extra pleasures and deny yourself simply for the sake of the self discipline of self denial? Benedict says this is the way to re-orient ourselves. It is a small discipline in order to gradually, bit by bit, turn ourselves away from the constant pursuit of pleasure and our own will and turn toward God.
This self denial also helps us to turn towards others. It is only as we truly see God for who he is and others for who they are that we can see ourselves for who we really are, and the core of the virtue of humility is seeing ourselves clearly and without any illusions.
The third degree of humility is that a person for love of God submit himself to his Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom the Apostle says, He became obedient even unto death.
Do you even have a “superior” to submit to? in religious life it is the Abbot, but if we do not have an immediate, formal religious superior we can submit ourselves to another person to whom we have made a lifelong vow: our spouse.
Within the vocation of marriage the spouse can be your superior. Let’s face it, if they married you they are your superior! Seriously, what matters is not so much who the superior is, but that we submit ourselves is loving service to another person.
If we are not married we can still find that person to serve in simplicity, and that person can be our superior. It might be a lonely old person or a difficult relative. As we submit in service authentic humility grows within us without our being aware of it.
The fourth degree of humility is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind when in this obedience he meets with difficulties and contradictions and even any kind of injustice, enduring all without growing weary or running away.
This is the true test. Can we submit in service when the other person is harsh, unreasonable and irrational? To submit in service to another even when it is unreasonable is one of the things that seems to have happened to saint after saint. They had an unreasonable superior. A bishop quashed their wonderful plans to serve the Lord. An abbot demoted them or a mother superior was petty and mean.
Still they persevered and as they did humility flourished in their hearts.
Do you still want to be humble? I’m not sure I do! My will, my arrogance, my selfish plans, my ego and my love of being admired and my love of doing my own thing and pursuing my own pleasures is still very strong.