In yesterday’s Post we considered the 12 Steps of Pride set forth by St. Bernard of Clairvaux. In escalating ways, the 12 twelve steps draw us up to an increasingly mountainous and enslaving pride.

St. Bernard also lists the 12 steps to deeper humility (I am using the list from Vultus Dei HERE)  and it is these that we consider in this post. As with yesterday’s post, the list by St. Bernard is in red, but the commentary on each step are my own poor reflections. Take what you like and leave the rest. For St. Bernard’s own reflections, consider purchasing the book he wrote: Steps of Humility and Pride.

(1) Fear of God - to fear the Lord is to hold God in awe. It is to be filled with wonder and all at all God has done, and who he is.

Cringing, servile fear is not counseled here. Rather, the fear rooted in love and deep reverence for God is what begins to bring us down the mountain of pride.

It is a look to God, and away from ourselves and our egocentric tendencies, that begins to break our pride.

Scripture says The fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10).  To fear the Lord is to turn to the Lord, seeking answers, seeking meaning, realizing that in God is all wisdom and knowledge. To fear the Lord is to hunger and thirst for his truth and righteousness. To fear the Lord is to look outside and upward from myself to God.

Here begins our journey down the mountain of pride, a simple and loving look to God who alone can set us free from the slavery that pride and sinfulness created for us.

(2) Abnegation of self-will – In the garden, Jesus said to his father, Father, not as I will, but as you will (Lk 22:42). And this is what abnegation of the will means. It is to be willing to surrender my will to God’s will, to subsume my decisions under his.

Pride demands to do what it pleases, and to determine whether it is right or wrong. But in this stage of humility I am willing to look to God.

The Saints say, “If God wants it, I want it. If God doesn’t want it, I don’t want it.” The prideful person says “How come I can’t have it? Its not so bad. Everybody else is doing it.”

But on the journey away from pride, and having come to a fear of the Lord, now the we are more joyfully ready to listen to God, and to submit his vision will for us.

(3) Obedience - And now, having obtained to a more humble disposition of heart, we are more capable and wiling to obey. Obedience moves from the hearing to the heeding of God’s word, of God’s holy will, and of  being willing to surrender our stubborn wills. We are made ready, by God’s grace, to  execute that will, to obey and put into action the will of God. And thus the descent of the mountain of pride begins  apace, toward the freedom of the children of God, little by little.

(4) Patient endurance - , Embarking on this journey down the mountain of pride and  striving to hear and understand God’s will and to obey him, one can surely expect obstacles both internally and externally.

Our flesh, that is, our sin nature, does not simply and wholeheartedly surrender, but continues to battle. Our flesh resists prayer, resists being submitted to anything other than his own wishes and desires. And thus, internally, we suffer resistance from our sinful nature.

But little by little we gain greater self-discipline and authority over our unruly passions. This is truly a struggle, requiring patience, and an enduring spirit and will.

Externally too, we often encounter resistance as we try to come down from the mountain of pride. Perhaps old friends seek to seduce us back to former ways. Perhaps too the structures of our pride remain standing; structures such as willfulness, self-reliance, powerful positions, etc.,  continue to draw us away from our intentions come down the mountain of pride and further embrace humble submission to God. Perhaps the world continues to demand that we think and act out of old categories that are not of God, and still hold us bound to some extent.

Patient endurance is often required to see such things born away. Yes, it often takes years of patient and persistent action, even decades, for the sinful world dominated by structures of sin and rebellion, to lose its grip on us.

(5) Disclosure of the heart -  Perhaps the most humble journey, as we come down the mountain of pride, is the journey in to our wounded hearts. Scripture says, More tortuous than all else is the human heart; beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, alone, the LORD, explore the mind and test the heart (Jer 17:10).

To make this journey, requires a lot of humility as we see our sinful drives, and also many misplaced priorities.  We must often uncover unpleasant memories, and even trauma from the past, that we have experienced or have inflicted on others. And in that place of our heart we are called repentance and to show forgiveness and mercy, or to accept that we must be forgiven and shown mercy.

We may be asked to remember and to realize that we have not always been 100% right, and that we have sometimes acted unjustly and sinfully toward others, that we have a times been insensitive. This is a very humbling journey, but a necessary one as we continue to come down from the mountain of pride.

(6) Contentedness with what is – Contentedness is a form of acceptance and is a very great gift to seek and to receive. We can distinguished a kind of external and internal contentedness.

External  acceptance is rooted in the capacity to live serenely in the world as it is, and to realize that God allows many things we don’t prefer for a reason and a season. Acceptance does not connote approval of everything. Indeed there are many things in the world that we ought not approve of. But acceptance is the willingness  to humbly live and work in a world that is neither perfect nor fully according to our preferences. Some things we are called to change, other things to endure. And even in those things we are called to change, we may have to accept that we cannot change them quickly or at all right now. Jesus told a parable about the wheat and tares and cautioned not to act precipitously to remove the tares, lest the wheat be harmed. It is a mysterious fact that God leaves many things unresolved and part of our journey in humility is discern what we are empowered to change and what we must come to accept as beyond our ability to change.

Internal contentedness is a gratitude for what we have and a freedom from resentment about what we do not have. In pride we demand that our agenda, our menu be fully followed. In our journey toward humility we come to be more content to gratefully accept what God offers and to say, “It is enough O Lord. I am most grateful!”

(7) Lucid self-awareness - In pride we are often filled with many delusions about our self, and usually think more highly of our self than we ought. We are often unaware of just how difficult it can be to live or work with us.

But as we continue down the mountain of pride, fearing the Lord, submitting our will to his in docility and obedience, being more honest about the deep recesses of our heart, our disordered drives and unrealistic agendas, we are now increasing prepared to embrace true humility.

Humility is reverence for the truth about our self. It is a lucid self awareness that appreciates our gifts, remembers that they ARE gifts. And it is an awareness also of our struggles and of our on-going need for repentance and the grace of God.

With lucid self awareness I am increasingly learning to know my self more as God knows me (cf 1 Cor 13:12). This is because, as we come down from the mountain of pride into deeper humility, God discloses more to us just who we really are. We become more and more the man or woman God has made us to be, and our self-delusions and the unrealistic demands of the world begin to fade. The darkness of these illusions is replaced by a lucidity of self awareness where we are able to see and understand our self in a less ego-centric way. We are mindful of what we are doing, and thinking, and how we interact with God and others. But we do this in a way that strongly aware of the presence and grace of God. We come to self awareness in the context of living conscious contact with God throughout the day.

(8) Submission to the common rule - The ego-centric and prideful person resists being told what to do and is largely insensitive to the needs of others and the common good.  The proud man thinks he knows better than the collective wisdom of the community.

But as our journey down the mountain of pride continues, into deeper humility, we become more aware of the effects we have on others and how we must learn to interact and cooperate with others for goals larger than our self. Humility teaches that the world does not simply revolve around me and what I want, and that sometimes the needs of others are more important than my own. Humility helps us accept that laws exist most often to protect the common good and that, while individual rights are also important to protect, humility make me more willing to submit my personal needs and agenda to the needs of others and the wisdom of the wider community.

(9) Silence - Silence is a respectful admission that other people have wisdom to share and important things to share. The proud person interrupts frequently and quickly thinking he knows already what the other person is saying or that what he has to say is more important. But as humility grows, we become better listeners, appreciating that others may be able to offer us knowledge or wisdom that we currently lack.

(10) Emotional sobriety - Many of our emotional excesses are rooted in pride and ego-eccentricity. When we are proud we are easily offended, easily threatened. For fear begets anger.

And, as we saw yesterday, the initial stages of pride are often rooted in inordinate curiosity, mental levity and giddiness. All of these things cause our emotional life to be excessive and disordered.

But as we now grow deeper in humility we are less ego-centric and thus we are less fearful and less easily offended.

And having our mental life focused on more substantial and less frivolous things, also adds stability to our thought life. We are less carried off into gossip, intrigue, rumor and so forth. We are less stirred up by the machinations of advertisers and less disturbed the 24/7 “breaking news” cycles of the cable news marketers. We are more thoughtful and less likely to rush to judgments that often unsettle us.

The humble person trusts God more and is thus not easily unsettled by all these mental machinations. And it is thoughts that generate feelings.

Thus as our thought life becomes more measured, and our conclusions more humble and careful, our emotions are less volatile and we attain to an emotional serenity and sobriety.

This is a very great gift to seek and cultivate by God’s grace.

(11) Restraint in speech - As we are more emotionally stable, less anxious, and stirred up, our speech and demeanor reflect our serenity. We are less likely to interrupt, to speak in anger or be unnecessarily terse or harsh. We don’t need to “win” every debate but are content perhaps to stay in the conversation or be content to sow seeds and leave the harvest for later or for others. Our serenity tends to lower our volume and speed in talking and we are more able and content to speak the truth in love, with clarity, but also with charity.

(12) Congruity between one’s inside and one’s outside - We saw in yesterday’s post on pride, the problem of hypocrisy. The Greek word “hypocritas” refers to acting. Hypocrites are actors playing a role that is not really them.

The proud and the fearful are always posturing and aligning themselves with what makes for popularity and profit. But as humility reaches its goal, integrity, honesty and sincerity come to full flower.

This is because, by the gift of humility, we open ourselves to be fully formed by God. Having turned our look to God, and made the journey into our heart, we discover the man or woman God has made us to be, and we begin to live out of that experience in an authentic and non-pretentious way. Since, by humility we are more focused on God we are less nervously self-conscious.

By the gift of lucid self-awareness described above, we are comfortable in our own skin. We do not need to posture, dominate, compare or compete.  Rather, our inner spiritual life and focus on God now inform our whole self.

Humility has now reached its goal, for humility is reverence for the truth about our self. We are sinners who are loved by God. And as we make the journey to discover our true self before God, we become ever more grateful and serene, and we live out of this, inner life with God are enabled to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

Thanks be to God for these insightful lists of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St Benedict which has so aided in this reflection! Pray God we all are able to make the journey down form the mountain of pride and into deeper humility.

12 Responses

  1. Susan says:

    Wonderful reflection, Msgr. Pope! Very insightful and helpful. Thank you.

  2. Andkaras says:

    Fear of God is to me kind of like when we were very small and our father puts us up on top of the fridge. He smiles, stands back, holds out his arms toward us and says, ” Don’t worry , Trust Me, jump ! “

  3. Cecilia says:

    Thank you for some St. Bernard! One of my favorites. I’d like to add one of my favorite glosses of St. Bernard, which I learned from Thomas Merton: every opinion we have that we aren’t required to have is a burden on our interior lives. I’ve found that a great insight about curiosity, as it’s so often looking for things to have unneccessary opinions about. And the internet has multiplied the opportunities to have unnecessary opinions & invest our egos in them a ton. But what freedom not to be burdened by my own opinion about things I’m not obliged to have an opinion about!!

  4. RichardC says:

    I like what St. Francis de Sales says about contemplating our own abjection. Neat post. Thanks, Monsignor.

  5. Jennifer says:

    Okay, I am walking my way down the mountain of pride into humility, Father, under the guidance of your blog posts. :)

  6. Donna says:

    This is a wonderful post! I printed it out and read it to my family. I’ll be rereading this often!!

  7. Tmac says:

    Thank you Msgr for the reference and your commentary. I am inspired by you’re insights and encouraged to renew my efforts to bring myself closer to God. While I am by no means well versed in Catholic medieval literature, what little I have been exposed to, e.g., the Rule of Benedict, St. John of the Cross, etc., I am struck by the emphasis on developing a “fear of The Lord”. It seems a less perfect way to holiness. I personally have tried to grow closer to God by developing a greater love for our Lord. True love, as true as is humanly possible, would seem to offer all of the corrective action embraced by St. Bernard’s prescription as stated above and does so without any sense of sacrifice but rather an enthusiastic willingness. Think of the wholesome love one has for one’s children. We willingly and happily dedicate all of our efforts and time to enriching the life of the loved one. This is the kind of love God has for us, only perfectly so, and this would seem the better path for us to pursue in bringing ourselves closer to God. Fear keeps us from going over the guard rails, love moves us further down the path.

  8. Tmac says:

    Thank you Msgr for the distinction, this is a new insight for me and will prompt some reflection. What strikes me also is the likelihood of a common misunderstanding of this distinction by a large majority of Catholics, including faithful practicing Catholics. Without this clarification, the Church would seem to be emphasizing fear of punishment rather than reverence and veneration of God given the many undefined references to “Fear of The Lord”. Moreover, there seems to be comparatively less institutional emphasis on developing a “Love of God” which would, in turn, lead to a greater reverence and veneration of God. I am inclined to agree with the post by Bender when he suggests the use of the word “fear” in the English translation creates more confusion than enlightenment.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    I stumbled across your blog after reading your excellent article on spiritdaily.com. Thank you most
    of all for speaking the truth with charity!! BEAUTIFUL! !♡♥

  10. Paul says:

    Most enjoyable read and very true too. I liked that it was laid out in a clear easy to understand way, I know for certain I have been guilty many times of these short comings and would love to acquire more of the virtues of humility. Peace, love and blessing from the Creator to you my friend :)

  11. dr. dennis says:

    Our pastor reviewed St. B’s 12 steps as it relates to the readings this weekend…. Humility!!. This was my first alert to St. B’s work and the 12 areas. I teach, facilitate, and coach leaders on building their ‘emotional intelligence…This work has given me lesson plans for my future interactions.. One needs to know thyself and this code helps so much.. I am so grateful for this exposition. I try to teach stuff but this gives me more to teach and grow my learners in their relationship with our dear Lord….
    djk

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