Twelfth Step of Humility

The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident at the work of God, in the oratory, the monastery, or the garden, on a journey or in the field, his head must be bowed and his eyes cast down.  Judging himself always guilty on account of his sins, he should consider that he is already at the fearful judgement, and constantly say in his heart what the publican said with downcast eyes: “Lord, I am a sinner.”  Rule of St. Benedict

Saint Benedict makes reference in the twelfth step of humility to the story of the Pharisee and the Publican in Luke 18:9-14.  This Gospel reading reminds us that the temptation to pride and self-exaltation remains with us until the end of our days.  All we can do is to face the war within ourselves, as did the ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers.  The weapon they used in the battle was the continual recitation, day and night, of the Publican’s prayer: “God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Throughout the centuries the formula of that prayer developed into what has become the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  The Jesus prayer allows us to confront ourselves daily, as in a mirror.  We see the naked truth about our crude sinfulness, our failings, our shortcomings, our pride, our lack of charity, our passing judgement on others.  Only the humility of recognizing our sinful state and our knowledge of God’s abundant mercy lets us resolve this confrontation.  There is a river of love and mercy for all who constantly say in their hearts what the Publican said in the Gospel.  The time comes, after years of faithful praying, when by the grace of God the prayer takes hold of one’s being.  Then, no obstacles remain between the humble realization of our sinfulness and the gift of forgiveness received from a loving father.

In this twelfth step, Saint Benedict also approaches the physical conduct and the bearing of the monk, “whether he sits, walks, or stands,” or “whether he is in the oratory or garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.”  Our physical bearing ought to be a reflection of our inner dispositions.  This sort of behaviour on the part of the monk is what the ancient fathers taught as monastic modesty.  modesty is the opposite of pride, the monk’s great enemy.  And by holding on in all things to the habitual practice of monastic modesty on a daily basis, little by little we let go of the false self.  We die daily, to make room for God.  We let go of ourselves, and in doing that we let God in.

Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette
Blessings of the Daily, A Monastic Book of Days

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