My rector at the junior seminary started his talk on humility by telling us of a priest who is speaking about humility to a group of nuns and recommended a book. “This is the greatest book I have ever read on the subject. It is an excellent, lucid and scholarly exposition, and I wrote it.” Was he boasting, blowing his own trumpet, or just being honest?
St Benedict in his rule wrote about the twelve steps of humility, like twelve steps on a ladder. Its length and position in the rule is arguably the heart of Benedict’s Presentation of the way to God. An initial reading of Chapter Seven of the rule might not be easy for us to appreciate who are living in the 21st century. It is stark and demanding. It might seem to a modern reader as an expression of a spirituality that is no longer acceptable. The Australian Cistercian monk of Tarrawarra Abbey, Michael Casey, has indeed written a book on St Benedict’s teaching on humility, entitled “Truthful Living”. In this book he provides a bridge between an ancient text and the present day.
Jesus isn’t asking us to humiliate ourselves when he tells the story in the Gospel for this Sunday. He isn’t asking us to think less of ourselves than other people. Nor does it mean undervaluing our talents. There is nothing more off-putting than someone constantly professing: “I am not good at anything. I am not important.” We need to remember that the word “humility” come from “humus” which as every gardener knows is the very stuff of the earth. To be humble means to have your feet firmly on the ground. We need to have an honest acceptance of the seeds of talent given to each one of us by God.
“Humility is never arrogant because it recognising that what talents we have are gifts from God. “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have not received why do you glory as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7) Rather than hiding talents, humility sees the duty to nurture them so as to reflect back the glory of the giver.” (Sylvester O’Flynn). Jesus is our model of humility. “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” In recent days in the readings at daily Mass we have been hearing how Jesus was condemning the Pharisees as hypocrites. The word means a play actor, pretender, dissembler. Humility means setting aside the mask. It is a kind of nakedness that allows us to be seen without the bulwark of social conventions “We present ourselves to others transparently, in all our imperfection and vulnerability. We depend on their good will for acceptance and love, not on the success of our efforts at self promotion.” (Michael Casey).
Lord help me to be at home with myself. Help me to be myself. Give me the grace of true humility.