The unconscious drive to power can become an obstacle to our service and impact our relationships with distrust and suspicion. This reality happens not only in the political realm since it is part of our human make-up. Thus, it happens in all institutions, in our religious institutions and more specifically in our communities. We can see this power dynamic of envy in today’s gospel (Mt 22:15-21). In this gospel, we see the religious leaders trying to ‘trap’ Jesus, but first they recognize and publicly state that he is a ‘teacher’ of their faith: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth”. There is no seeking of God, of what the Spirit may be saying in this encounter of Jesus with his own religious leaders. Instead, they are trying to find things to accuse him of with the sole purpose of bringing him down, and eventually bringing reasons to have him done away with, even though they genuinely recognize he is a ‘teacher’ of their faith! If we bring this issue into our lives as monastics, we see in the Rule of St. Benedict how often he warns against the emotions that wrap themselves around this drive for ‘power’: envy, jealousy, a murmuring spirit, being the predominant ones.
A humble person is a strong person, strong interiorly…focused on God alone, not grasping at power or grasping at anything. With the demeanor of humility, we stand on the ground of truth, the truth of God, the truth of ourselves and the truth of our neighbor. ‘Even though he was God, he did not grasp at power but humbled himself’, gave himself over to God…surrendered rather than grasping at a way that was not of God. The Philippians hymn (2:6-11) is powerful in describing the humble posture of Jesus. This humble posture is one of Divine strength for grace flows freely within a selfless demeanor. This hymn is the paradigm of the spiritual journey for Christians.
In the American Benedictine Review, Sr. Manuela Scheiba wrote an essay titled, Humility: A Powerful Remedy in the Face of Destructive Envy (September 2023: 74:3). She gives an abbreviated overview of texts speaking of ‘envy’ from Scripture, the early Patristic period, and the Rule of St. Benedict. She begins her essay with this potent statement: “Our interactions with others can reveal much about ourselves—about the good and the bad in us. It may reflect our pride, self-centeredness, fear of coming up short, our jealousy, or our envy when we compare ourselves with others” (p.238). Then Sr. Manuela quotes a social ethicist (again right at the beginning of her essay): “‘Communities collapse under the weight of grumbling and dissatisfaction, envy and presumption’” (p.238). The issue of envy in our monastic communities is not the matter of one or two people in a community…it is an issue for all of us. The antidote or remedy for envy is humility. Notice in the article’s title humility is described as a ‘powerful remedy’ and that ‘envy’, undealt with, can become destructive first of the person and then of a community. The ground of humility rests on our openness to the truth of ourselves…it does not begin with the truth of our neighbor. Do we really believe in a God of compassion and mercy? If yes, are we open to have the gentle gaze of God look within our heart and reveal to us what is there, of the good and the bad tendencies? The disposition of humility is integral to following Jesus, for becoming more Christ-like in all that we are and all that we do: “Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29).
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess
Chapter Talk – 29th Sunday of the Year – October 22, 2023, cycle-A