February 2017 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: Lent and Humility
“O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers.” These lines in the Catholic Prayer for Blessing and Distribution of Ashes resonated with me during Ash Wednesday Mass, especially after a recent oblate discussion.
This prayer suggests our Creator is moved by what we do, by our acts of humility. The Latin word for “are moved” is flectaris, meaning to bend down. God bends down to us, moves to us, is moved by us. In our humility, we become vulnerable and open ourselves for a deeper connection with God.
So what does it mean to act with humility?
What does St. Benedict say about how we are to observe the season of Lent?
We read Chapter 49, The Observance of Lent, of the Rule of St. Benedict for our lectio divina discussion, pairing it with our study of St. Benedict’s twelve-step guide to humility. Words and phrases (in bold below) were identified by oblates as powerful or meaningful, words that require a deeper listening to, a listening with the ear of the heart. We trust God is using a word or phrase to speak to our own life situations.
St. Benedict writes:
The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the spiritual father will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with the abbot’s approval. –Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49
Our discussion centered on the following themes:
- Acknowledging our weaknesses. Our human nature is sinful and weak—our pride can be so easily hurt, we attach to our ego and begin to think our opinions are who we are. This pride is death and needs to be surrendered. The fifth step of humility is that “we do not conceal from the abbot or prioress any sinful thoughts entering our hearts…but rather confess them humbly.” This includes acknowledging our faults and stripping away our masks by owning up to our own weaknesses (Radical Spirit, Chittister). Our weaknesses and addictions, even our wounds, affect our behavior, yet we hold so tight to them. When we acknowledge them, we can become free. We fully reveal ourselves and let down our masks. Acknowledging what weakens us can be freeing, just as the saints acknowledged they were sinners.
- Conforming our will to God’s will. We want God to do what we want, we want things the way we want them, under our control, in conformance with our will and desires. But we cannot just give up our will—it is not human. Rather, we must conform our will to God’s. Jesus is our example, “I came to do the will of my Father.” This does not mean we must blindly accept all circumstances or that it is wrong to question why something is God’s will; and it is not giving our will over, becoming like a slave; and it is not giving up our will by refusing to accept responsibility. God gave us our will and desires, but we can lay our shame, pride, ego, sense of rejection and judgment on the altar. Jesus stops the pride; he dies to self.
- Becoming vulnerable. Expecting perfection from ourselves or others is about pride. Becoming vulnerable is allowing ourselves to be authentic, not perfect, but who we really are. Naked and known, through and through. Humility requires this opening oneself totally to God. Devoting ourselves to “prayer with tears” is an act of vulnerability.
- Accepting we are responsible to our community. Just as monks must acknowledge their shortcomings in community, it is important for us to reflect on how our behavior affects others as well. We need to become more aware of how we really are in relationship with others, viewing ourselves with a sharper eye and others with more mercy. Seeing our own shortcomings is humbling, but humility leads us to freedom because we really know ourselves. It is only when we really know ourselves that we can reach out to our confreres in the monastery, members of our family or colleagues in the workplace. There is a pride in admitting we are not perfect, that we are not better than others…that we need to change.
- Recognizing our spiritual development is a continuing conversion. We must “commit ourselves to not running away from the growth moments in life.” (Radical Spirit) Humility is the foundation of relationships, and it is only through humility that faith, hope, and love can happen. When I know I cannot make it alone, that I need God to do this, then faith, hope, and love flow. Our humiliations can either become shame or humility—and it is humility that is the foundation of our faith. We desire to become more holy, but this is not an accomplishment either—just when you think you have humility all wrapped up, you have just lost it. You have moved into being prideful of your humility, which is after all, not humility at all.
This time of Lent is about transformation—we can move towards God as God moves toward us. This is our spiritual journey. Joan Chittister writes in Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, “Oh, we fall and we get up. We fall and we get up….We never arrive, we are always arriving.” Our journey is, with humility, to embrace our journey and to surrender to the transformation God desires for us. “O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers.”
Wisdom Distilled in the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today, Joan Chittister
Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life, Joan Chittister
Essential Presidential Prayers and Texts: A Roman Missal Study Edition and Work Book, Nov 6, 2011 by SLD Daniel Merz and OSB Marcel Rooney, page 40
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB