Humility Step Six: Willing to Be Weak

There is a strain in contemporary Catholic and Christian apologetics that argues that we should all support Christianity because it has given so much to society. Books with titles like “Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church,” and “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” have proven quite popular in recent times. The idea that our Faith is something good for cultures and for the world I do not dispute; the problem comes in more when this bleeds into a stance that judges the value of the Church by its contribution to somethig presumably more important. The Church becomes merely an instrument toward some goal other than the Kingdom of God, which is not of this world. This accompanies a subtle shifting towards the modern idea of ‘religion’ in which everyone gets to examine different faiths and choose which one best suits their needs, rather than as a call from the Living God to a life of service and witness. “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel,” sounds like compulsion, not a few choice among the options available to me.

Another problem with the approach is that it tends to present Christians (and particularly Catholics) as ultra-competent. “We produce the best philosophers, economists, doctors, scientists, businessmen, athletes…you name it!” Priests are supposed to be versions of Bing Crosby, Fr. Brown (sleuth), St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John Bosco rolled into one. Seminary ought to train priests to be psychiastrists, building managers, and friends (but also squeeze doctrine in there some place). The pressure is by no means limited to priests, but I speak from my own point of view. In any case, the idea is that if we are to maintain our reputation as absolutely central to , then we must be on top of our game at all times, no matter the challenges.

How different is St. Benedict’s Sixth Step of Humility. Are we ready to regard ourselves as “poor and worthless workmen?” Should we not rather take pride in what we do?

Again, in understanding this properly, it is of utmost importance to hear what Cassian has to say in his version of the ladder of humility: “Humility…is verfied by the following indications:….if he is satisfied with utter simplicity and, as being an unfit laborer, considers himself unworthy of everything that is offered him.” In other words, doing shoddy work won’t make someone humble at all. In fact humility will come about more naturally if we do our best and find that our blood, sweat and tears doesn’t draw much attention or praise. Nothing generates the inner conviction of worthlessness than genuine, and perhaps brazenly public, failure.

But worthless in whose eyes? The gist of Cassian’s aim in his teaching on humility is contempt for the world, meaning, I suggest worldliness and worldly values. Here we see the divergence between an attitude that would see our faith as contributing to some worldly goal (building Western Civilization…hmmph!) as opposed to seeking the Kingdom of God. This seeking of God’s kingdom does not mean that we will not enjoy some level of success in the world, only that we will come to realize that we didn’t ‘build the city of God’, God did! “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all things will be given to you as well.” If we choose God’s way over the world’s way, we are bound to appear foolish at times, perhaps often (what the heck do you monks do all day, anyway?). We will also be led by God’s mysterious tutelage, to understand how dependent we are on Him, and how generous and faithful He is to us. When we have grasped this fully, we won’t hesitate to say that our contribution was little to nothing. We are simple workmen in God’s vineyard, to quote another Benedict.

1 Comment

  • MktingGuy says:

    How does one live in the world, but be not of the world? How does one strive to do one’s best, but not strive for success? How does one reject worldliness and worldy values, but not live in a monastery — but rather have a family, a career? I spent the weekend on a retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. I’m coming to believe monks are the luckiest people in the world — because they cannot be of the world.