“Disasters teach us humility.” No, that quote didn’t originate with the outbreak of this current pandemic. Rather, it is from over nine-hundred years ago by Saint Anselm of Canterbury. We celebrate the memorial of his death in 1109 on April 21.
The disasters that Saint Anselm confronted are quite different from the COVID-19 pandemic we face in 2020. Yet, his centuries-old wisdom might give us pause. We all yearn to get past this world crisis as quickly as possible. We all pray to be restored to full health, employment, physical closeness, attendance at public Mass to receive the sacraments, travel, and much more. Saint Anselm invites us to ponder how this disaster can teach us/me humility, even while we await restoration.
If nothing else, this pandemic has made us all the more aware of how interconnected we are with people all over the planet. It’s frightening to see how quickly one person’s lack of precaution can quickly spread this virus to hundreds. It’s heart-warming to see people everywhere inventing ways to meet the needs of friends and strangers. In her book, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Sister Joan Chittister, OSB describes humility as “a proper sense of self in a universe of wonders.” A proper sense of self instills in me that wonderful interconnectedness with everyone everywhere. It also reminds me that I am not God, but I am dependent on an awesome God.
Saint Anselm was a Benedictine monk. He certainly knew well the chapter on humility in The Rule of St. Benedict! Anselm entered the Benedictine Abbey of Bec in Normandy, France at age seventeen. Later, he was elected Abbot of that Abbey. At age fifty-nine, while serving as Abbot, Anselm visited England. King William Rufus of England, thinking he was dying, appointed Anselm the Archbishop of Canterbury. In short, that’s where his troubles began. Twice, Anselm had to flee into exile while the Vatican applied pressure on the King. Anselm’s place in history, however, is marked by his renown as a theologian for which he was named a doctor of the Church. In the midst of his own disasters, he could write:
“Come now, you poor creature, turn your back on your busyness for a little while. For a few moments leave the tumult of your thoughts; throw off the burden of your cares and put aside your wearisome occupations. Make some time for God; rest in God for a while. Enter the chamber of your mind; exclude everything but God, and what will help you find God; shut the door and search for God. Now say how you long to see God’s face.” [from the Proslogion by St. Anselm]
By Sister Sara Aiden Burress, OSB