A Guide to Living in the Truth: Saint Benedict's Teaching on Humility by Michael Casey (Liguori/Triumph) This book manages to offer a good case for the monastic rule of humility. In my own experience humility is a grace from the Holy Spirit that accompanies patience attentivness to the divine. Casey brings in the disclipine of obedience which brings out issues around humility Drawing upon Chapter 7 of the Rule of Saint Benedict, these practical reflections show how the first approach to understanding humility is to view it as the total self-acceptance of our humanity. Those who are humble experience no shame. They do not need lies or evasions to inflate their importance in the eyes of their associates, or bolster their self-worth. Casey brings the ancient wisdom of Saint Benedict into the modern arena of success-oriented competition. He demonstrates how`people must overcome the tendency to regard others as rivals so they may be content working with what they have, and waste no time envying those who possess different qualities. The humble are equally content with both the gifts and limitations that come from who they are.
A Guide to Living in the Truth tells us much about the human condition. It shows us how humility brings with it a fundamental happiness that is able to cope with external difficulties and sorrows.
The credit for this spectacular change belongs to Christ. The monk is cognizant of having done nothing to merit it. It is Christ operating through the Holy Spirit that effects the miracle and permits it to become manifest. The process of divinization parallels that of purification. The ordinary workings of grace first separate the monk from his voluntary aberrations or sins and then continue by eradicating the sources of sin in his own unredeemed nature. There is a long period of pain in which the monk tames his will and allows himself to be purified. It demands action. For all the power of grace cannot counter human indifference. So the monk works hard to correspond with God's action. But he needs to keep in mind that it is God's work first. All that is accomplished in us is the effect of his saving compassion. Humility opens us to receive what God desires to give. What God gives us, above all, is mercy. No wonder Saint Benedict concludes his listing of the tools of the monk's trade: "Never to despair of God's mercy". The monk who has arrived at the top does not think in terms of his own achievement or success-he sees only the victory of God's grace.
We began this book by listing some of the objections made by late twentieth-century people to the whole concept of humility. While recognizing the validity of many of these criticisms, we have tried to show that the "humility" thus impugned is not what Saint Benedict and the monastic tradition have been advocating. Part of what I have hoped to achieve in compiling these reflections is the "rehabilitation" (if that is the right word) of Saint Benedict as one of the great spiritual masters and to demonstrate something of the vitality and viability of his spiritual approach.
Far from being demeaning or dehumanizing, true humility is a quality that enhances humanity. In Saint Benedict's view a monk is humble if meets the following criteria:
• He is serious in his commitment
• He is free enough of inner conflict to be able to follow the way of Christ
• He is able to endure the reverses and sufferings that are part of every human life
• He is honest about himself
• He is not ambitious or boastful
• He does not hide behind a wall of talking and laughing
• He is transparent in his goodness
As Saint Paul would probably say, against such realities as
these there can be no law.
I do not know if Saint Benedict would have enjoyed reading this book. While his text has been my starting point, I am aware that I have wandered some distance from his historical viewpoint. I have deliberately allowed myself to have been influenced both by subsequent monastic tradition (especially Bernard of Clairvaux) and by the needs and insights of our contemporaries. My hope is that these thoughts may help some to return to the text of Benedict's Rule and to find in it a springboard for their own reflection.
If I had to list some of the points I would hope might be remembered by the persevering reader, the following would come to mind.
1. Humility is not necessarily a bad thing, nor even
indifferent, but an attitude that enhances both human life and spiritual
2. As presented by Saint Benedict, humility is essentially the translation of Gospel values into the practical realities of daily monastic life.
3. Chapter 7 of the Rule is primarily descriptive and developmental. Benedict gives an account of the way a monk's spiritual life develops during the course of a lifetime.
4. This teaching is practical and experiential. It is not deduced from a theoretical base in anthropology or psychology. It speaks from experience with a view to shaping attitudes and influencing behavior.
5. Although times have changed and human consciousness is different, there is much wisdom that can be distilled from these chapters.
6. I cannot speak with certainty, but it seems to me that Benedict's message on humility has application far beyond those who lead monastic lives. With appropriate qualifications, I suspect that it would be helpful to any seekers after God.
7.Even if we are convinced that Benedict has an inadequate view of spiritual life as far as concerns modern women and men, I would suggest that he is worth listening to. Speaking of the deep realities of spiritual development from a different cultural perspective, he may have stumbled upon something that is hard to perceive from where we stand. We never know what falls within our blind spot unless someone with a different blind spot can inform us.
8. Benedict's language and vocabulary may be unfamiliar and some of his themes, like the emphasis on sin, may be distasteful. I would aver that it is worth learning a new language to make contact with one of the spiritual giants of Christian history.
9. Benedict shows in Chapter 73 that he was under no illusion that he had covered all aspects of his subject or that he had said the last word on every topic concerning the life of monks. Let us take him literally. Let his Rule become for us a doorway to a tradition of life and thought that continues to have much to contribute to the present and future of the Church.
History, Veneration and Myth: Reinventing Bernard.
BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX: Between Cult and History by Adriaan H. Bredero ($30.00, hardcover, 320 pages, notes, bibliographies, index, Eerdmans, ISBN: 0-8028-3796-4)
Bredero first began reading Bernard of Clairvaux in 1944 as a young university student forced into hiding by the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Over the past fifty years Bredero has extended his academic interest in Bernard in several directions, including the historical value of the vita prima, Bernards part in the conflict between Citeaux and Cluny, and the image of St. Bernard as it was developed by hagiographers and scholars through the ages. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX summarizes Brederos lifelong study of Bernard, the Cistercian monk who was arguably the most influential ecclesiastical figure of the twelfth century and who remains one of the churchs most venerated saints. This volume, which Bredero himself calls his "final report of a long investigation," does not pretend to offer yet another biography of Bernard. Rather, it paves the way for future biographical scholarship by pointing out and often suggesting resolutions to the many problems that beset this field of inquiry. Toward this end, Bredero deals carefully with three key areas in the field of Bernard studies. First, he examines the textual problems surrounding the earliest hagiography of Bernard, in particular the vito prima, and the relationship between the authors of this work and Bernard. Second, Bredero evaluates Bernard as he has been discussed in historiography and literature. Third, he deals with the question of how Bernard ought to be viewed in his own historical context, his actions during his "earthly" life.
For Bredero, the "chimera" nature of Bernard the man derives from a disjunction between "history" and "cult," between Bernard as historical actor and Bernard as object of cult. This volume will be invaluable to anyone interested in these parallel strains of fact and legend, and particularly so to those who would attempt to reconcile them.
II. Saint Bernard: The Origin of His Cult in the Cistercian Order and His Canonization
III. Bernard as Saint in the Cistercian Hagiography of the Twelfth Century
IV. The Authors of the Vita Prima
V. Saint Bernard and the Historians
VI. "Jerusalem Searched in the Light of Lamps": Bernard in His Monastic Umwelt
App. 1. Chronological Summary (1075-1174)
App. 2. Summary of Some of the Textual Problems Discussed in This Book
Bibliography 1: Collections
Bibliography 2: Sources
Bibliography 3: Books, Monographs, Articles
Adriaan H. Bredero is professor emeritus of medieval history at the Free University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is the author of numerous studies, including Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages: The Relations between Religion, Church, and Society.
THE CLOISTER WALK
$12.50, paper, 385 pages
G K Hall & Co
$24.95 Hardcover, 532 pages
$17.95, 2 Audio Cassettes about 3 hours, abridged
Also available as an unabridged recording on Books-on-Tape, Kimberly Schraf, reading on 8 Cassettes. voice phone:1-800-626-3333
hardcover: ; LARGE PRINT : Abridged audio version:
THE CLOISTER WALK is an uneven meditation upon the monastic way in late twentieth century America. Norris's remarks are by turns surprising and naive, profound and vapid, predictable and unexpected. I am sure it has to do with the background of this reader. For those only marginally aware of the monastic way or the content of the psalms and their use to move and shape the day in prayer, Norriss journey through the liturgical year with the Benedictines will be a small revelation. It is good to be reminded that centuries-old traditions of monastic life continue to call and nurture souls, even souls otherwise concerned with the secular. Norris writes a lyrical prose, with an intelligent eye and engaging humor. She breathes life into this unique community of celibate men and women, renewing its significance and relevance to our everyday world.
By living, praying and working in this community, Norris offers fresh insight events of her own life -- her marriage, family relationships, sexuality, the vagaries of work, even the celebration of such mundane tasks as laundry and cooking. The powerful rhythms of Benedictine life gave me balance, a routine, she writes. And the liturgy became a place where I could understand my own life and my vocation as a poet.
How monastic life changed Norris's view of time was significant "In our culture, time can seem like an enemy," she explains. "But the monastic perspective welcomes time as a gift from God, and seeks to put it to good use rather than allowing us to be used up by it."
The daily rounds of chanting and reading of the Psalms offered new value to her discipline of writing. Her more significant passages draw parallels between the life of a poet and of a monk, mentioning their communal roles in American culture and the importance to both of "attentive waiting." In her view both life choices require discipline and commitment and come from grace, or what writers have traditionally called inspiration.
Near the conclusion of the book Norris explores celibacy in the community, explaining how it renewed her appreciation for the bonds and boundaries of marriage. She also examines the rigors of communal living. The success of Benedictine life, Norris says, is that it "demonstrates a remarkable ability to take individual differences into account while establishing the primacy of communal life." If problems arise it is because monasteries are full of real people, not saints, and within even the smallest community there is a tremendous amount of diversity: the scholar alongside the semi-literate, or the meditative praying next to one who can't sit for more than five minutes. Or as one monk told Norris, "Our biggest problem is that each man here had a mother who fried potatoes in a different way."
All in all THE CLOISTER WALK is compassionate, insightful, full of wonder, mystery and humor, an insightful tour of a way of life that continues to attract and may even flourish despite its expected eventual extinction.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathleen Norris is an award-winning poet and author of the New York Times bestseller Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, which won the 1993 New Visions Award from The Quality Paperback Book Club and the Society of Midland Authors' annual award. Her most recent collection of poetry is Little Girls In Church. She lives in Lernmon, South Dakota, with her husband, poet David Dwyer.
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