The Gospel for Eucharist last Sunday ended with the words: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last” (Lk 13:30). The Gospel text from Luke for this coming Sunday echoes a similar theme: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (14:11). This inversion/reversal dynamic frequently appears throughout the Lucan narrative and is a foundation upon which St. Benedict established his chapter on humility (RB 7). Jesus and Benedict challenge their disciples to actualize an alternative reality (i.e., the Kingdom of God) within a worldly/earthly cultural context fiercely opposed to it. To take up this challenge daily has a high cost. It requires no less than a willingness to risk, to surrender, or to lose everything that is deemed “valuable” by worldly standards. Honestly, I must admit that I am not always up to this challenge.
When reading the Prologue to the Rule this week trying to find a topic on which to write, I was stopped by the following verse: “[T]he Lord waits for us daily to translate into action, as we should, his holy teachings” (v.35). Conscious of my own failures in this regard, aware of the sad state of affairs in nearly every place on the planet, and feeling a sense of powerlessness against forces beyond my control, I needed this momentary pause to wait with the Lord so as to be reoriented and encouraged. The Lord isn’t waiting for us to be perfect. The Lord isn’t waiting for us to be popular or to be comfortable. The Lord isn’t waiting for us to win an election or gain a promotion. The Lord isn’t waiting for us to attain financial security or to belong to a certain economic class. Rather, the Lord waits for us to put his holy teachings into practice—daily.
Whatever the context of my life, I am challenged to live within the dynamic reality of God’s eternal reality—with love, mercy, and justice, with compassionate consideration for the outcast, the poor, and the powerless. Translating God’s holy teaching into action doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it must happen in the context of one’s ordinary daily life. It happens when choosing the last or the “least” seats at table. It happens when I let go of my own will or my own desire for pleasure for the sake of a greater good or the need of another. It happens when I perform a service out of love, without the gratification of recognition. It happens when I handle hardships with patience instead of grumbling about being inconvenienced. It happens when I own up to faults, failures, and mistakes rather than hiding them or seeking to blame others. It happens when I can peaceably do without the latest, the greatest, the best, and the most fashionable. These and other examples come indirectly from St. Benedict’s chapter on humility as well as other places in the Rule.
St. Benedict and Jesus are interested in concrete actions that “the world” may or may not even notice. Their passion and wise guidance are meant to stoke the flames of genuine love in the hearts of their disciples. The objective is having the disciples choose words and deeds that make the Kingdom of God and actualized reality instead of a theoretical construct. Act with mercy. Listen with compassion. Welcome the stranger. Assist the poor. Visit the sick. Protect the vulnerable. Be the love of God made incarnate in the lives of others. Anything that is counter to the love of God is to be avoided. (St. Paul’s letters help us to know those things that are to be avoided by detailing them for his audience.)
Humility is the virtue that assists us with doing the right thing for the right thing for the right reason. The religious leaders who faced off with Jesus were hypocritically absorbed with non-essential details of religious observance to boost their estimation of themselves and to look good before others, neither of which are God-centered motives. True love that is of God is not self-interested. Choosing humility as a way of life helps us to stay on the path toward true love, translating God’s holy teachings into action.
By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB