Humility The Seventh Step
The seventh step of humility is that we not only declare with the tongue but also believe in our hearts that we are inferior to all of less value, humbling ourselves and saying with the prophet: I am truly a worm, not human, scorned and despised by the people (Ps 22:7).
With this seventh step, we must remember that God chose to send his Son into the world to become one of us. God became human and came to dwell among us. This step is not about us being worthless, not about being nothing or inferior. We may sometimes feel like we are worthless or nothing or inferior to others, but that is a false humility. What is true is that we are dependent on others and on each other.
I am reminded of a story about a student I once taught. Maurice was a big little boy and a sensitive child. He was from a dysfunctional family and had already taken in a lot of negative messages by age five. He came to school not believing in himself. He was smart, but he had difficulty with fine motor skills, so when it was time to learn to write letters and words, his paper was a mess. Maurice could see how his work compared to that of his classmates. Whenever the work was challenging, he became frustrated and gave up quickly, announcing, “I can’t do it. I’m stupid.” Then he tore up his paper. Maurice believed himself to be inferior to everyone in the class, and it was hard for him to accept my help when I tried to encourage and teach him. Maurice had a false humility. He really didn’t know himself and the truth about what a great kid he was. But this is not what Benedict meant about humility.
In step 7, Benedict quotes from Psalm 22, “I am a worm, not human.” This is from the same psalm that Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God why have you deserted me?” Throughout the psalm, God is the only source of strength and goodness. If even Jesus had to depend on God’s mercy, how much more must we? Humility teaches us that God is the source of goodness.
We learn to accept the times when life teaches us that we need to be dependent on others. We don’t have to do it all, and we don’t have to do what we do perfectly. We can learn about and practice dependence on God by being dependent on others. We can accept the help from others and allow them to teach and support us. We can accept and love ourselves even with weaknesses and limitations. We can also love others, support others, and be compassionate for them in their weaknesses. A weakness can be a friend and remind us of who we truly are, and help us to be in relationship with God and others. A weakness can be an opportunity to grow and an opportunity to love.
Sister Jacqueline Leiter, OSB is a member of St. Paul’s Monastery (since 2003). She is an educator (most recently working in Saint Paul Public Schools), an artist, and serves on the Leadership Team as Treasurer (since 2019).