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Sunday, June 2, 2024
Chapter 7

The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, our hearts quietly embrace suffering and endure it without weakening or seeking escape. For scripture has it: "Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved (Mt 10:22)," and again, "Be brave of heart and rely on God (Ps 27:14)." Another passage shows how the faithful must endure everything, even contradiction, for the sake of the Holy One, saying in the person of those who suffer,"For your sake we are put to death continually; we are regarded as sheep marked for slaughter (Rom 8:36; Ps 44:22)." They are so confident in their expectation of reward from God that they continue joyfully and say, "But in all this we overcome because of Christ who so greatly loved us (Rom 8:37)." Elsewhere scripture says: "O God, you have tested us, you have tried us as silver is tried by fire; you have led us into a snare, you have placed afflictions on our backs (Ps 66:10-11)." Then, to show that we ought to be under a prioress or an abbot, it adds: "You have placed others over our heads (Ps 66:12)."

One thing about Benedict of Nursia: he is not is a romantic. It is so easy to say, "Let God be the center of your life; do God's will; see God's will in the will of others for you." It is outrageous to say, even under the best of conditions, that it will be easy. We cling to our own ways like snails to sea walls, inching along through life, hiding within ourselves, unconscious even of the nourishing power of the sea that is seeking to sweep us into wider worlds.

And all of that when the words that control us are good for us. What about when they are not? Benedict admits the situation. There are times when the words of those over us will not be good for us.

The fourth step on the spiritual ladder, Benedict says, is the ability to persevere, even in the face of downright contradiction because it is more right to be open to the Word of God through others and have our enterprises fail sometimes than to be our own guide and have things turn out right.

It is more right to be able to deal with the difficult things of life and grow from them than it is to have things work out well all the time and learn nothing from them at all.

This is the degree of humility that calls for emotional stability, for holding on when things do not go our way, for withstanding the storms of life rather than having to flail and flail against the wind and, as a result, lose the opportunity to control ourselves when there is nothing else in life that we can control.

In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling God's command: "When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they offer their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two (Mt 5:39-41). "With the apostle Paul, they bear with "false companions, endure persecution, and bless those who curse them (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12)."

To bear bad things, evil things, well is for Benedict a mark of humility, a mark of Christian maturity. It is a dour and difficult notion for the modern Christian to accept. The goal of the twentieth century is to cure all diseases, order all inefficiency, topple all obstacles, end all stress, and prescribe immediate panaceas. We wait for nothing and put up with little and abide less and react with fury at irritations. We are a people without patience. We do not tolerate process. We cannot stomach delay. Persist. Persevere. Endure, Benedict says. It is good for the soul to temper it. God does not come on hoofbeats of mercury through streets of gold. God is in the dregs of our lives. That's why it takes humility to find God where God is not expected to be.