Humility: Step 6

The six step of humility is that they are content with the lowest and most menial treatment and in all that is asked of them they regard themselves as poor and worthless workers, saying with the Prophet, “I am insignificant and ignorant; no better than a beast before you, yet I am always with you.”

Benedict lived in a time when slavery was common. The members of his monastery included people from many backgrounds: noblemen and slaves and peasants, merchants and tradesman. They were all required to do manual labor, eliminating social class in the monastery. There were many kinds of work in the monastery, but then, as now, it was probably hard for many to accept the dignity of all work and not judge themselves or others. Yet each kind of work was necessary for the operation of the monastery. Each kind or work was a way to serve God and others.

When Benedict speaks of low and menial treatment, he is not encouraging us to accept abuse and neglect or ignore injustice for the sake of humility. We must resist these things. Rather, the humble person is content with what he or she receives, and is not self-loathing or looking around for the worst of everything. Benedict invites us to compare ourselves with an animal, “I am . . . no better than a beast before you.” This sounds pretty low. Who wants to be compared with a cow, or worse yet, a pig? But let us consider that cows, pigs, and other beasts are not as conceited and full of self-importance as we humans tend to be. Rather, cows and pigs are content to be what they are and do what they are supposed to do. The end of the sentence holds the key: “yet I am always with you.” No matter how small our lowly we may be, no matter how insignificant we may feel, we are always with God always loved by God.

What we do is really not important. How we do it is what matters. When we are asked to do a job that seems menial or below our ability, we have a choice. We can resent it and think about how underappreciated we are.  Or we can do whatever is asked with joy and offer it to God. Our value comes from God. What others believe about us, or how they evaluate us, is really not important. We are not to confuse our worth with our job title. Detachment from status and reputation can lead us to greater interior freedom. We can grow in humility and in love of God, others, and self.

Invitations: How often do we define ourselves by our career? When we first meet someone, one of the first questions is, “What do you do?” We don’t ask, “Who are you?” How often do we really see another person?  How often do we find ourselves truly seen by others?