Humility and the Common Life

(This is Neil) In this week’s “Credo” column in the (London) Times, the Anglican Bishop of Gibraltar, Geoffrey Rowell, discusses humility. As Christians, we are called to imitate Christ. But this does not mean that we want to have one of Christ’s possessions or his prestige, or that we actually desire to become another Christ. We are called to imitate Christ’s humility – his self-emptying. This does not mean a romantic destruction of the self, but rather an opening, through imitating Christ, to the imitation of “the pure generosity of his Father who ‘makes his sun shine and his rain fall on the just as on the unjust’” (see René Girard here). Our common life is meant to foster this paradoxical imitatio Christi.

One way, then, that we can begin to tell if our common life is useful is to ask if it is making us more humble, more generous to all of our neighbors. Do we really listen to others?

Here is part of what Bishop Rowell has to say:

… The rule that Pachomius gave was one which sought for what we might call today a life-work or life-style balance, seeking a middle way between conformity and excess. He told his brethren: “If you cannot get along alone, join another who is living according to the Gospel of Christ, and you will make progress with him. Either listen, or submit to one who listens.”

Some two centuries after Pachomius St Benedict, whom the Church commemorated last Saturday, composed a rule of life for his monks. It is one of the shaping documents of the Western Church, and a guide not only for monks but for all who seek to live the Christian life. Benedict called it “a school for the Lord’s service”. The abbot, the father of the monastery, has a key role. He must have a wise discernment, for he has to serve a variety of temperaments, “coaxing, reproving and encouraging them as appropriate”. The abbot, although he has authority, is not an autocrat, he has to consult. Listening is important, and not just to the older and more senior for, Benedict tells us, “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger”. “The love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love.” Benedict’s brothers are told that they are never to lose hope in God’s mercy. When guests arrive at the monastery they are to be welcomed as Christ himself.

If there is a duty of obedience to the abbot this obedience is also to be shown in relation to each other: “It is by the way of obedience that we go to God.” At the heart of the common life is the learning of humility, and that is sustained by the praise and worship of the community, which is expressed in the psalms and praise of the divine office and in prayer that is “short and pure”. The rule of common life is an imitation of Christ. So Benedict concludes with words summing up his rule, telling his monastic brethren that they are to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ”…


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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