February 2, June 3, October 3
Chapter 7: On Humility
The fifth degree of humility
is that he hide from his Abbot none of the evil thoughts
that enter his heart
or the sins committed in secret,
but that he humbly confess them.
The Scripture urges us to this when it says,
"Reveal your way to the Lord and hope in Him" (Ps. 36:5)
"Confess to the Lord, for He is good,
for His mercy endures forever" (Ps. 105:1).
And the Prophet likewise says,
"My offense I have made known to You,
and my iniquities I have not covered up.
I said: 'I will declare against myself my iniquities to the Lord;'
and 'You forgave the wickedness of my heart'" (Ps. 31:5).
To hide one's symptoms from one's physician is to court misdiagnosis.
If you lie to your therapist, why bother with analysis? Both these
tactics obscure illness rather than produce health. The "health" they
seek is nothing more than a falsehood, an illusion based on an
It is natural for us to wish to wish that parents and abbots think
the best of us. It is supernatural to want them to know the truth
when they need to know it to help us. That "natural" tendency in us,
however, is founded on a very unlovely kink: the desire to ALWAYS
look good, ALWAYS seem in control, even when we are floundering in
deep trouble. If parents or bosses or abbots think very highly of us,
this temptation is even stronger; we'd rather not burst their bubble,
we think it is to our advantage not to do so.
The monastery is a school of the Lord's service, but it is a hospital
of sorts, too. When we place ourselves under the care of the Holy
Rule and an abbot, we have admitted our need for care, for treatment,
for progress. Why deny ourselves any of those things now? I'm not
sure, but I'll bet there are tons of easy ways to fake one's way out
of chemical dependency treatment. Why bother? Unlike many in
substance abuse treatment, we came to Benedictinism of our own accord.
In Eastern monasticism, the tradition is for the disciple to confess
thoughts to the elder every day. This is considered a crucially
important part of monastic formation. It humbles the disciple and it
leaves the elder in a much better position to train and advise.
Granted, with many monastics in and out of house, most abbots would
be unable to do this daily, but every monastic needs a confessor or
spiritual director or spiritual co-struggler who can really know
what's going on in their souls.
Parents know how it feels when a child has need of them and never
lets them know. It is an awful feeling and often the child's reasons
(like fear or deceit,) for keeping them in the dark hurt even more.
No parent, no boss and no abbot is perfect. They are all human and
flawed, just like us. However, when we avoid trusting them with some
of our dark side, we cheat ourselves of a chance to see their
greatness called forth in compassion, mercy and wisdom.
Balance, common sense and moderation obtain here, too. It is one
thing not to tell one's abbot or boss something because one wishes to
be thought well of, quite another to realize that some things, when
there truly is no need to tell them, are best left unsaid. As Father
Damian of St. Leo is fond of saying: "The truth is not always
nourishing." Those of us inside monasteries live with our abbots. We
get to know them. At St. Leo, we had a fairly common agreement that
there were some things one had better NOT bring up to Abbot Fidelis
because they would flip him out. Many could say the same things of
their parents or boss. This is a different animal from keeping
superiors deluded into thinking we're doing fine. However, SOMEONE
needs to know: a spiritual director or confessor. We are too weak to
trod the path alone.
Family life, in either monastery or home church, must be founded on
truth and reality to be healthy. All of us have seen flaming examples
of dysfunction when it is not. Even though sometimes a mother will
say: "For heaven's sake, don't tell your father!" there has to be
SOME connection with reality. Not only is humility (in one sense,)
truth, but Jesus, too is the Truth. Why on earth bother seeking Him
if we don't want Truth?
Love and prayers,