I just started glancing through a new book and was so amused by the table of contents that I post it here entirely, for our edification and consideration of how Benedict’s instructions are so refreshingly different from those of our current crop of “thinkers” and “leaders”, our most popular talking heads
… A new 12 step program for our times direct to us from the “Dark Ages” … which appear to have been far more enlightened than we have been led to believe by our “betters” …
SAINT BENEDICT’S LADDER OF HUMILITY
Step 1: Be afraid – FEAR OF GOD. Always have the fear of God before your eyes (Ps 36:2) and avoid all thoughtlessness so that you are constantly mindful of everything God has commanded.
Step 2: Don’t be true to yourself – SELF-DENIAL. Do not be in love with your own will, but put into practice that word of the Lord which says: “I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:38).
Step 3: Don’t follow your dreams – OBEDIENCE. For the love of God, be obedient to those in authority over you, imitating the Lord, of whom the apostle says: He became “obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8).
Step 4: Suffer fools gladly – PERSEVERANCE. Be patient in suffering, even when you encounter difficulties and injustice, for Scripture says: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).
Step 5: Put your worst foot forward – REPENTANCE. Never hide any of the evil thoughts which arise in your heart or the evils you commit in secret. Instead, reveal them to someone you trust. For Scripture says: “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him” (Ps 37:5).
Step 6: Be someone’s doormat – SERENITY. When ill treatment comes your way, try to accept it. Learn to be content with the lowliest and worst of everything, and in all that is demanded of you.
Step 7: Have a poor self-image – SELF-ABASEMENT. Believe in your heart that you are an unworthy servant of God, humbling yourself and saying with the Prophet: “I am a worm, and no man; scorned by men, and despised by the people” (Ps 22: 6).
Step 8: Think inside the box – PRUDENCE. Only do what is lawful, and follow the example of your elders.
Step 9: Don’t speak up – SILENCE. Only speak when you are spoken to, for Scripture says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Prov 10:19).
Step 10: Laughter is not the best medicine – DIGNITY. Do not be too quick to laugh, for it is written: “A fool raises his voice when he laughs” (Sir 21:20).
Step 11: Be unassertive – DISCRETION. If you must speak, do so gently, humbly, earnestly, and quietly, with few and sensible words; for it is written: “The wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”
Step 12: Keep your chin down – REVERENCE. Wherever you go, bow your head in prayer, remembering the words of the publican: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Lk 18:13).
Augustine Wetta, Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem. Ignatius Press. Kindle Edition.
What about virtue? Virtue (Latin: “virtus”) is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting collective and individual greatness.
“Virtue”, then, is the sum of the traits and qualities through which we are enabled to perform our duty. The opposite of virtue is vice. This is the state of life when we do not practice the virtues and do not “do our duty” to the best of our ability.
For clarity, I think that there is “Virtue”, a virtuous life as it were, as a state of being, and there are virtues which are traits of personality or training which, when efficaciously employed, lead to a “state of virtuous existence”. I don’t know if that is true, or even linguistically correct, but it is how I see things.
Book of Job, “Naked Came I…”
The four classic cardinal virtues (from antiquity) are temperance, prudence, courage, and justice. Christianity adds the three theological virtues of faith, hope and love (charity) from 1 Corinthians or more accurately from God through scripture and revelation. Together these make up the seven virtues of Christianity.
Buddhism’s four brahmavihara (“Divine States”) could be regarded as virtues in the classical European sense. The Japanese Bushidō code is characterized by up to ten virtues, including rectitude, courage, and benevolence.
So we progress through the execution of duty by exercise of virtue and onward to the discovery that this exercise of virtue in our doing of our daily duty engenders suffering in both our own spiritual life (controlling our vices or self discipline) and in our relations with others (who do not espouse the same goals, morality and virtues).
So what of suffering? Even though man knows and is close to the physical sufferings of the animal world, we also use the word “suffering” to express the sense of mental or spiritual suffering which seems to be essential, and unique to the man’s nature.
This mental and spiritual suffering is as deep as man himself, because it manifests in its own way that depth which is proper to man. Suffering seems to belong to man’s transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense “destined” to go beyond himself.
“Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)
I think it might be said that man transcends himself, that is, becomes part of something greater than himself, when suffering enters his life. This happens at different moments in life, and takes place in different ways. Suffering assumes different dimensions, different manifestations, but whatever the form suffering seems to be inseparable from man’s earthly existence. It might not be too much of a stretch to think that man exists to suffer.
Saint John Paul II
Assuming that throughout life man walks on the long path of suffering, it is in this suffering that we meet man (mankind) in a special way on the path of his suffering.
It is probably no surprise that as our Progressive culture moves further and further away from the divine experience of God and more and more towards the worship of self that we more and more reject the experience of suffering and the necessity of suffering.
We, in our Progressive society, exist in the midst of a fantasy that “no one should have to suffer”, or at least we give lip service to the idea while trying our individual best to avoid any personal suffering.
The suffering of others seems to be less important as long as we don’t have to do any suffering ourselves. So, to relieve suffering we turn to antidotes to suffering: drugs, medicines, rituals, sensual pleasures and gratification of appetites, counseling and camaraderie, pursuit of desired “goods”.
Medicine, in our culture, is the science and the art of relieving suffering by “healing”, and presents the best known area of the human struggle to answer the universal condition of suffering, the area identified with precision and counterbalanced by methods of “reaction” to suffering, that is to say therapy.
Unfortunately, this is only one area, the concern with physical suffering. The analysis of symptoms (diagnosis) is less than precise, and, outside of setting bones and sewing up of wounds, the offered treatments or therapies are even less precise, offering in most cases only small percentages of improvement and countless side effects.
In our societal fantasy about not suffering, and in our “Modern Medicine” we completely miss the mark. We seem to be not even conscious of the necessity of suffering and what we lose in chasing a suffering-free existence. For the mass of man the field of human suffering is much wider, more varied, and multi-dimensional.
Man suffers in different ways, ways not always considered by modern medicine, even in its most advanced specializations. Suffering is more than sickness, more complex than injury and deeply rooted in humanity itself. A sense of what we are thinking of here comes from the distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering.
This distinction is based upon the double dimension of the physical and the spiritual nature of the human being, of the body nature and of the soul nature and points to the bodily (physical) and spiritual (soul) aspects as the immediate subject of suffering.
Insofar as the words “suffering” and “pain”, can, up to a certain degree, be used as synonyms, physical suffering is present when “the body is hurting” in some way, whereas moral suffering is “pain of the soul”.
Saint Theresa of Calcutta
Pain of a spiritual nature, not only the “psychological” dimension of pain is a part of both moral and physical suffering.
The vastness and the many forms of moral suffering are probably greater than the forms of physical suffering, and at the same time, seem to be less identified and less reachable by any recognized therapy.
Let us, for just a moment, look into Sacred Scripture for some universal examples of situations which bear the mark of suffering, especially moral suffering. This story of suffering exists in every sacred tradition, on every continent, in every culture in history, from ancient times right up to the present.
It is significant that the physical aspect of suffering is simply assumed and unremarked in Sacred Tradition. What gets the lions share of the focus is the aspect of moral suffering.
Moral sufferings, the danger of death, the death of one’s own children and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son; the lack of offspring, nostalgia for the homeland, persecution and hostility of the environment, mockery and scorn of the one who suffers, loneliness and abandonment; the remorse of conscience, the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer, the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours; and the misfortunes of one’s own nation.
In treating the human person as a psychological and physical “whole”, Sacred Scripture often links “moral” sufferings with the pain of specific parts of the body: the bones, kidneys, liver, viscera, heart, and so on. In fact one cannot deny that moral sufferings have a “physical” or somatic element, and that they are often reflected in the state of the entire organism. As we see from these examples, we find in Sacred Scripture an extensive list of variously painful situations for man.
This varied list does not exhaust all that has been said and repeated on the theme of suffering in the “book of suffering” of the history of man (this is an “unwritten book”), as read through the history of every human individual, in every time and place. It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil.
In the vocabulary of Sacred Scripture, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate “suffering”. Thus it defined as ” evil” everything that was suffering. Only the Greek language, and together with it the New Testament (and the Greek translations of the Old Testament), use the verb “I am affected by …. I experience a feeling, I suffer”
Thanks to this verb, suffering is no longer directly identifiable with objective evil, but expresses a situation in which man experiences evil and in doing so becomes the subject of suffering. Suffering has indeed both a subjective and a passive character. Even when man brings suffering on himself, when he is its own cause, this suffering remains something passive.
This does not mean, however, that suffering in the psychological sense is not marked by “activity”. There are, in fact, multiple and subjectively differentiated “activities” of pain, sadness, disappointment, discouragement or even despair, according to the intensity of the suffering subject and his or her specific sensitivity. In the midst of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes the individual to suffer.
Parts of the portion of this post on suffering are paraphrased from: APOSTOLIC LETTER, “SALVIFICI DOLORIS“, OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF, JOHN PAUL II TO THE BISHOPS, TO THE PRIESTS, TO THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES AND TO THE FAITHFUL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING, 1984.
More thinking and more to follow I think but enough for now …
“Inner Thoughts” Rodrigo Rodriguez, from the album “Inner Thoughts” (2006)
Marcus Aurelius – was Roman emperor from AD161 to AD180,
When searching for answers about “what constitutes right living?”, and “how does one know when one is following the right path?” one is really asking oneself “How do I know with certainty what is the will of God?” Understanding the perfection of love, that is “love of another besides myself” consists in striving towards the perfect conformity of my will with the divine will.
I think it is sitting right in front of our face and residing in our soul of we are honest with ourselves. It is expressed simply in a concrete and detailed way in the duties of my state and the various circumstances of my life. The “duties of my state” determine particularly how I must act on a daily basis so as to be always in conformity with the divine will.
Those duties are expressed in the commandments of God, known in “natural law” to all men, in all times, in rules and customs, commands of superiors, and tasks imposed by obedience, my duties are those required by my family life, my profession or occupation, my social activities, and by good citizenship.
And so, as is known in “natural law” to all men, in all times, Marcus Aurelius reflects on Duty: Our duty is to “Begin the morning by saying to thyself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.
On Virtue: But I who have seen the nature of the good that it is beautiful, and of the bad that it is ugly, and the nature of him who does wrong, that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity, I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kinsman, nor hate him,
On Suffering, : For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.” going forward in duty by virtue regardless of the consequences and violence we might suffer whenever the all too human tendency to refuse co-operation, to insist on doing things our own way, to work against each other and to experience the suffering inherent in human relations whenever the reality of selfishness and self worship impact the smooth exchanges of daily relations.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book Two.
We understand, from reading the “ancients”, from reading the “classics”, that “natural law” is knowable and known, to all men, in all times, since man began. And God’s will, as discerned in natural law, is also marked out for me by the circumstances of my life, whether it is important or not, down to the very smallest detail, in health or sickness, wealth or poverty, interior joy or aridity and emptiness, success or failure, struggles, misfortunes and losses.
From time to time I am presented with tasks – special tasks – of patience, generous activity, love, or renouncement, detachment, submission, and sacrifice. These tasks may come to me through the actions of my superiors, governing bodies, professional organizations, family members, or some combination of the actions and consequent fallout of such actions involving some or all of the above groups.
But everything is permitted by God, “To them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom 8, 28), so it remains to me to discover what the divine will may be in each task with which I am presented. Sanctity does not consist in doing extraordinary things … sanctity is reduced to simply the fulfillment of duty … therefore it is most definitely possible for me to attain to sanctity regardless of how insignificant I may view my role in the tapestry of life.
Therefore I must be persevering and punctual in the fulfillment of my duties, diligent, being careful in my actions, accustoming myself to see the expression of God’s will in every one of my duties, no matter how trivial. I must fulfill my duties not only when I feel great fervor but also when I am sad, tired, frustrated, or in a state of spiritual aridity. I must express constancy with generosity.
It may feel small and insignificant but it takes uncommon virtue to fulfill all one’s duties without carelessness, negligence, or laziness, to avoid the pitfall of giving everything a “lick and a promise” or just going through the motions in order to “get it done”. It takes uncommon virtue to put the effort into attention, piety, and spiritual fervor, to pay attention to the details, for the whole combination of ordinary duties which make up my daily life. The details matter.
I must not be discouraged by failure, either resulting from outside forces or from my own failure of attention or lack of competence – my mistakes and forgetfulness and so on and so forth. Always acknowledge faults and failures, take ownership of them and begin again with renewed commitment.
What else is there to say about “duty”? It seems something of a truism that in our great self-regard we find it easier and more attractive to identify the duties of others than our own, and inversely, there will always be a plenitude of folks more than willing to tell us what our duty may be should we find ourselves momentarily unfocused and apparently idle.
Well, I suppose that might just be enough for one post – I will continue next post with thoughts a about virtue and how one employs virtue to carry out one’s duty and perhaps then into how this persevering way of life, constantly doing one’s duty by exercising virtue results in suffering …