Catholic Steps to Humility

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The Call to Humility:
St. Benedictís Twelve Steps

Excerpt from the "Regula Sancti Michaelis" (Articles of Formation)
Order of the Legion of St. Michael


M. The Call to Humility: St. Benedictís Twelve Steps

129. A Sermon from St. Benedict–The Twelve Steps to Humility: Holy Scripture proclaims to us brothers: "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Lk 14:11). It tells us that all self-exaltation is a form of pride, against which, the prophet tells us, he guarded: "Lord, my heart us not exalted, nor are my eyes lifted up; neither have I walked in great things nor in wonders above myself. But to what purpose if I did not think humbly but exalted my soul? As a child weaned from his mother, so will you reward my soul" (Ps 131:1-2).

130. Therefore, brothers, if we wish to reach the highest peak of humility and soon arrive at the heavenly heights, we must, by our good deeds, set up a ladder like Jacobís, upon which he saw angels climbing up and down. Without doubt, we should understand that climbing as showing us that we go up by humbling ourselves and down by praising ourselves. The ladder represents our life in the temporal world; the Lord has erected it for those of us possessing humility. We may think of the sides of the ladder as our body and soul, the rungs as the steps of humility and discipline we must climb in our religious vocation.

131. The first step of humility is taken when a man obeys all of Godís commandments–never ignoring them, and fearing God in his heart. He must constantly remember that those who fear God will find eternal life while those who scorn Him will be cast into Hell. He must continually guard himself against all sins of body and spirit, and deny himself the fleshly lusts.

132. He should know that God sees him always. No matter where he is, everything he does is reported to God by the angels. The prophet proves this when he says that God is ever present in our thoughts: "God searches the hearts and mind" (Ps 7:9). "The Lord knows the thoughts of men, that they are vain" (Ps 94:11). Also, "You have understood my thoughts from afar" (Ps 139:2), and "The thoughts of man shall confess to You" (Ps 76:10). Let the prudent monk–so that he may avoid evil thoughts–always say in his heart: "Then I shall be spotless before Him, if I shall keep myself from my iniquity" (Ps 18:23).

133. We are forbidden to do our own will for we are to "Leave (our) own will and desires" (Eccl 18:30), and "... beg the Lord in prayer that His will may be done in us" (Mt 6:10).

Thus we learn not to do our own will for Scripture warns us: "There are ways that seem right to men, but they lead, in the end, to the depths of hell" (Prv 16:25). We must fear what was said of the careless, "They have been corrupted and made abominable in their desires" (Ps 14:1). And we must believe God is present even in our bodily desires, for, as the prophet says, "Lord, all my desire is before You" (Ps 38:9).

134. Thus we must guard against these evil desires, for death is near the doorway to pleasure. As Scripture commands us, "Chase not after your lusts" (Eccl 18:30). Therefore, if "The Lord sees both good and evil" (Pv 15:3), if He is always searching out the sons of men to find those who dwell on or seek God, and if our every move is made known to Him by the angels assigned to us–then, brothers, we must always be on the lookout, as the prophet warns us in the psalm. Let us fear that the Lord may say to us in the future, "Thus have you done, and I have been silent," if He should see us falling into evil ways and becoming useless–even though He may spare us for a while, because He is honorable and waits for us to reform.

135. The second step of humility is reached when a man, not loving his own will, does not bother to please himself, but follows the injunction of the Lord: "I came not to do my own will, but the will of Him who sent me" (Jn 6:38). It is also said that "self-will has its punishment, necessity its crown" (Acta Martyrum).

136. The third step of humility is attained when a man, from love of God obediently submits to a superior in imitation of the Lord. As the apostle says, "He was made obedient unto death" (Phil 2:8).

137. The fourth step of humility is reached when a man, in obedience, patiently and quietly puts up with everything inflicted upon him. Whether these are painful, unjust or even against his nature, he neither tires nor gives up, for the Scripture says, "Only he who perseveres to the end shall be saved" (Mt 10:22) and "Let your heart be comforted, and expect the Lord" (Ps 27:14). To show that the faithful must suffer all, no matter what, for the Lordís sake, the psalmist says, "For you we suffer death all day long; we are considered as sheep for the slaughter" (Ps 44:22). Secure in the hope of Divine reward they rejoice, "But in all things we overcome by the help of Him Who has loved us" (Rom 8:37). ...

138. The fifth step of humility is achieved when a monk, by humble confession, discloses to his abbot all the evil thoughts in his heart and evil acts he has carried out. The Scripture tells us to do this: "Reveal your way to the Lord and hope in Him" (Ps 37:5). Also, "Confess to the Lord because He is good, because His mercy endures forever" (Ps 106:1). ...

139. The sixth step of humility is reached when a monk contentedly accepts all that is crude and harsh and thinks himself a poor and worthless workman in his appointed tasks. He must say with the prophet, "I have been brought to nothing, and did not know it. I have become like a beast before You, and I am always with You" (Ps 73:22-23).

140. The seventh step of humility is attained when a man not only confesses that he is an inferior and common wretch but believes it in the depths of his heart. He will humble himself and say, with the prophet, "I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the people" (Ps 22:6). ...And, "It is good for me that You have humbled me, so I may learn Your commandments" (Ps 119:71).

141. The eighth step of humility is reached when a monk only does that which the common rule of the monastery and the examples of his Elders demands.

142. The ninth step of humility is achieved when a monk, practicing silence, only speaks when asked a question, for, "In many words you shall not avoid sin" (Prv 10:19). And, "A talkative man shall not prosper upon the earth" (Ps 140:11).

143. The tenth step of humility is reached when a man restrains himself from laughter and frivolity, for "The fool lifts his voice in laughter" (Eccl 21:23).

144. The eleventh step of humility is arrived at when a monk speaks gently, without jests, simply, seriously, tersely, rationally and softly. "A man is known by few words" (Pv 10:14).

145. The twelfth step of humility is reached when a monk shows humility in his heart and in his appearance and actions. Whether he is in the oratory, at the "work of God," in the monastery or garden, on a trip, in the fields; whether sitting, standing or walking ó he must think of his sins, head down, eyes on the ground and imagine he is on trial before God. He must always repeat to himself, "Lord, I a sinner am not worthy to lift my eyes to heaven" (Lk 18:13). And, "I am bowed down and totally humbled" (Ps 38:8).

146. When a monk has climbed all twelve steps, he will find that perfect love of God which casts out fear, by means of which everything he had observed anxiously before will now appear simple and natural. He will no longer act out of the fear of Hell, but for the love of Christ, out of good habits and with a pleasure derived of virtue. The Lord, through the Holy Spirit, will show this to His servant, cleansed of sin and vice.