Of the 73 chapters in Benedict’s Rule of Life, by far the one that’s most important to consider is chapter 7 on “Humility.” His focus of humility is really the apex of the Rule, for to know Benedict is to realize he’s all about this one major theme: humility.
He describes humility based on Jesus’ teaching, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14). He writes that every exaltation is a kind of pride, which must always be shunned. In contrast, if we want to “reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw angels descending and ascending” (Gen. 28:12). And then, “Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility.”
Benedict’s Ladder of humility is one that is erected as our life on earth, and if we “humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.” Therefore, as we hold onto our body and soul with our right and left hands, and discipline them to be our stable front and rear guard in life and vocation, we step up and ascend to heaven one foot at a time.
It’s a fascinating concept. The ladder of humility is considered a metaphor for life. Rather than seeing humility as one of descent, which makes more sense to others like Bernard of Clairvaux would write and encourage the downward plunge toward the humus/dirt of humility, Benedict paints the picture of ascent toward heaven. This ascent is only possible through the lens and life of humility. The highest summit is what we’re to live toward, prayerfully, obediently and faithfully…one step and one maturing season of life at a time.
Humility is best described in the person of Jesus Christ. He was born humbly in a manger. He lived humbly within the context of his carpentry family. He served humbly after his baptism and temptation in the wilderness. He loved humbly, first with his immediate disciples and then with all who crossed his path. He was arrested humbly as he submitted himself to his betrayers and earthly authorities. He suffered and died humbly on the cross he carried to Golgotha, with whip lashes on his back and a thorn-filled crown on his head. He even rose from the dead humbly, without any fanfare, and then appeared to his disciples humbly after his resurrection.
Everything Jesus said and lived was out of a humble context of love. He invites us to live the same way…humbly, gently, lovingly. Will you say yes to his invitation and take one step at a time up the ladder of humble ascent toward your eternal home in heaven?
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