In Benedict’s Rule the “fifth step of humility is that a monk does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly.”

If we are, so to speak, mining the jewels of the Rule, this one comes from a vein that runs straight back to John Cassian and the first iteration of monastic life in the deserts of Egypt. This simple practice of self-disclosure to a wise elder—of being aware of one’s particular inner landscape and stating it simply and without elaboration—is also one of the most difficult because the reaction against it is rooted so deeply in our collective human illness. In Genesis “the man and the woman heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and they hid themselves.” We do not want to be known, or to know ourselves, just as we are.

For Julian, presenting oneself to the merciful, searching, healing gaze of Jesus—allowing oneself to be seen and known and loved—is the essence of salvation. To be regarded and loved without measure, and be able to bear that love. We get better at allowing this by practice at being transparent to our spiritual elders, and through regular recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In everyday use, growth in this and the other steps of humility is also manifested by the development of a healthy sense of gentle humor, a good diagnostic tool if ever there was one.


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