Benedict’s 12th Degree of Humility … at 8 a.m.

What does a monk from the dawn of Christianity have to say to married men and women at the dawn of the third millennium? Or a teacher?

The schedule at our Benedictine College faculty meetings prior to the opening of the school year include a presentation from a member of the Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica. This year’s was from Sr. Judith Sutera, OSB,  on the topic of “Humility”.

Sister Judith guided us on a trip through Chapter Seven of the Rule of St. Benedict, including the 12 degrees of humility. It was quite the tour.

I have used Chapter Seven in one of my lessons in the Benedictine College Experience course, our semester-long journey for our beginning freshmen. In an assignment, I zeroed in on the ninth degree, the degree pointing to the value of being silent, and keeping silent, until asked. Benedict points to Psalm 139 and 140 in counseling that “one full of tongue is not established in the earth.”

After her talk, I talked for a few minutes with Sister Judith, and told her the presentation, with modifications, would be an excellent session as part of pre-marriage counseling.

I think back to when I met my wife for the first time. I said something stupid, or, being glib of tongue as a broadcaster, something she considered silly. She ignored it, and talked with me, for which I am eternally grateful.

She points out now, and I continue to agree, that the practice of humility is not simply keeping quiet and being mouse-like. It is listening, and subjugating my will and my needs for yours’, whatever the setting. As an Oblate, she is certainly cognizant of the 12th degree, which Benedict makes difficult, but in the end, most useful:

“The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else.”

You may be familiar with the 1970s country song, “It’s Hard To Be Humble”, written by Mac Davis, and covered by Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson, among others. Honestly, it popped in my head on the way home from our last faculty session. If you read the lyrics, Davis presents the conundrum he faces, having everything, but having little, even if the song is cloaked with a veneer of humor. It’s actually pretty sad.

So, what to do for my students who have, literally, just arrived on campus when they arrive, in varying states of wakefulness for our 8 a.m. class? Suffice to say, the topic of humility is not first out of the box, but it’s not far removed, because, as learners and journeyers, we have to confront our outward “confident” selves with who we are when no one is looking, or those most important in our lives are.

I am imperfect, all day long. I am learning, from you, so I may be a worthy servant.

Image: Freshman at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, wear beanies for the first week of school — and so does the statue of St. Benedict that greets visitors to campus.

Michael Throop