Here is the final segment of my comments on St Benedict’s twelve steps of humility. The other segments can be located under the tags “Benedictine Way” and “Rule of St Benedict”
The ninth degree of humility is that a monk restrain his tongue and keep silence, not speaking until he is questioned.
It’s a good thing to keep silence no matter what. Even a fool is accounted wise if he is silent. But what if we have been accused of something?
That’s a tough one. We always feel we need to speak up and defend ourselves. This is especially tough when we have been accused wrongly or gossiped about. Benedict says, “Don’t explain and don’t complain.”
Can you possibly accept wrongful accusations and not speak up? You can do so if the person judging asks you to, but if you are going to blame others and excuse your self and wriggle out, then it doesn’t help. If, on the other hand, you are going to speak up to accept responsibility for what was wrong, then speak.
The tenth degree of humility is that he be not ready and quick to laugh.
This precept is widely misunderstood. Benedict is not advocating that kind of pious seriousness that is deadly. He wants the monks to be joyful. He is warning against frivolous laughter, mockery, sarcasm, crude language, scurrilous talk and general silly stupidity.
Remember he was dealing with young men and boys and he wants them to be serious about their spiritual life and not turn their life into one long joke.
He is also trying to avoid the temptation to turn every conversation into shallow entertainment. What results is that the monks I have met have always carried with them a deep and quiet joy. They have a sense of humor, but it is lodged deep and surfaces with a chuckle, a quick smile and a twinkle in they eye.
The eleventh degree of humility is that when a monk speaks he do so gently and without laughter, humbly and seriously, in few and sensible words, and the he be not noisy in his speech.
What I just said…
The twelfth degree of humility is that a monk not only have humility in his heart but also by his very appearance make it always manifest to those who see him. That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed and his eyes toward the ground.
The head bowed and eyes toward the ground is body language that is the result of humility. Those actions would not produce humility on their own and Benedict’s instruction does not intend to convey that.
His meaning is that humility shows in a person’s natural demeanor. He is lowly, simple, ordinary and down to earth. He does not strut. He does not show off. He does not stick his nose in the air. He’s simple.
Having climbed all these steps of humility, therefore, the monk will presently come to that perfect love of God which casts out fear. And all those precepts which formerly he had not observed without fear, he will now begin to keep by reason of that love, without any effort, as though naturally and by habit. No longer will his motive be the fear of hell, but rather the love of Christ, good habit and delight in the virtues which the Lord will deign to show forth by the Holy Spirit in his servant now cleansed from vice and sin.
This is one of the gems in the Rule of St Benedict. He acknowledges the end goal of the rule of life. It is to get to the point where the disciple of Christ does all these things because he wants to. He actually enjoys life because, through the discipline, he has come to live life on a higher plane and in a new dimension of reality.
He lives that way almost unaware that he has been brought to this place by discipline and grace.
The great archer does not aim at the target.