January 29, May 30, September 29
Chapter 7: On Humility
We must be on our guard, therefore, against evil desires,
for death lies close by the gate of pleasure.
Hence the Scripture gives this command:
"Go not after your concupiscences" (Eccles. 18:30).
since the eyes of the Lord observe the good and the evil (Prov. 15:3)
and the Lord is always looking down from heaven
on the children of earth
"to see if there be anyone who understands and seeks God" (Ps. 13:2),
and since our deeds are daily,
day and night,
reported to the Lord by the Angels assigned to us,
we must constantly beware, brethren,
as the Prophet says in the Psalm,
lest at any time God see us falling into evil ways
and becoming unprofitable (Ps. 13:3);
and lest, having spared us for the present
because in His kindness He awaits our reformation,
He say to us in the future,
"These things you did, and I held My peace" (Ps. 49:21).
Well, I'm back, at least for a while. Troubles too numerous to
outline have occurred and some may yet put me off line again soon,
but here I am!
Notice how this portion of the chapter harks back to the Prologue:
God watches us, and His angels, as well. God waits for our
reformation. All that beautiful prose of progress and hope in the
Prologue is intimately linked to humility. Without humility, we
aren't going anywhere!
Something else is going on here, since we ourselves must watch and be
on our guard. Without they eyes of faith, we can miss the fact that
God or the Angels are watching, but we can never miss our own
vigilance. We always know when we are being careful and the message
here is to live carefully all the time, to be mindful, to be on the
lookout for deceptions and traps.
"Go not after your concupiscences." Some older translations render
this "lusts", while the New English Bible has "passions." Certainly,
concupiscence means desire, but it carries, as do the other two
terms, a connotation of sexual desire. I am not at all sure that a
monk of St. Benedict's time would have limited it that strongly. Read
the Desert Fathers and the Eastern Orthodox monastics of today and
you will find that the "passions" have, in their works, a far more
expanded sense, encompassing any desire that can go to extremes. And,
let us face it, just about all desires, short of the desire to love
God, can go to extremes!
There is something reminiscent of a Buddhist principle here: all
suffering is rooted in desire and peace is the absence of desire.
The Buddhists certainly did not mean just sexuality. They meant, as I
think St. Benedict did, detachment from everything, a holy
indifference to one's condition. That's tough to pull off, and most
human beings will never go the whole way, but every step in the
direction of such serenity leaves us freer, freer for God, freer to
be what He created us to be.
We live in a secular age that goes far beyond merely baptizing our
desires: it GLORIFIES them! The late 20th century was unmistakably
the zenith of the self in human thought. We are actually challenged
"follow your bliss." Gee, that sounded nice the first time I heard
it, still does. But, on the other hand, what a trap. Let me be the
first to assure you that my blisses have gotten me repeatedly into
one hell of a lot of trouble. We cannot become like Rousseau and
assume a noble savage image here. Some of our "blisses" are wrong.
They are bound to be. And some of them, even though neutral, are
bound to make us crazy if we make them too important. "Go not after
thy lusts" means a lot more than just sex, it means any inordinate
Love and prayers,