Sermon from St Augustine
"The Pharisee might at least have said, I am not as many men are. But what meaneth these words: As other men are? All other men except himself. I, said he, am righteous; others are sinners. I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers. And then he took occasion, from the neighbourhood of the Publican, to plume himself: Or even, quoth he, as this Publican. I am the only one of my kind, thought he; that Publican is one of the others. Mine own righteousness maketh a gulf between me and all such wicked folk as he.
Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly; as for the proud (that is, such as was this Pharisee) he beholdeth them afar off. He knoweth the proud, all the same, but they are afar off from him. Consider now the lowliness of the Publican. It was not only that he stood afar off, but he would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven; he looked down, that he might be looked upon; he dared not lift up his eyes unto heaven; self-knowledge kept him down, though hope raised him up. Consider again, how that he smote upon his breast. He afflicted himself, and therefore the Lord had compassion upon his acknowledgement of guilt. He smote upon his breast, saying: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. Hearken here to a prayer! And wonderest thou that when the sinner remembereth, God forgetteth."
Let us meditate on the 12 degrees of Humility given by St Benedict in his Rule in relation to this passage:
The first step of humility is to cherish at all times the sense of awe with which we should ever turn to God.
The second step of humility is not to love having our own way, nor delight in your own desires...with Jesus as our model do the will of him who sent us. Punishment awaits us for following our own will, but there is a crown of victory for doing what is required of us.i
The third step of humility is to submit oneself out of love of God to whatever obedience under a superior may require; it is the example of the Lord himself that we follow in this: He was made obedient even unto death.
The fourth step of humility is to readily accept in patient and silent endurance, without thought of giving up or avoiding the issue, any hard and demanding things that may come our way in the course of that obedience, even if they include harsh impositions that are unjust.
Those who follow in that way have a sure hope of reward from God and they are joyful with Saint Paul's words on their lips: In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The fifth step of humility is that we should not cover up but humbly confess to our superior or spiritual guide whatever evil thoughts come into our minds and the evil deeds we have done in secret.
The sixth step of humility is to accept without complaint really wretched and inadequate conditions, and then whatever the task you may be ordered to perform, they should think of themselves as poor workers not worthy of consideration, say quietly to themselves: I am of no account and lack understanding, no better than a beast in your sight.
The seventh step of humility is that we should be ready to speak of ourselves a less important and less worthy than others, as something we believe in the secret conviction of our hearts.
The eighth step of humility teaches us to do nothing which goes beyond what is approved and encourage by the common rule of the monastery and the example of the seniors.
The ninth step of humility leads us to refrain from unnecessary speech and guard silence by not speaking until addressed.
The tenth step of humility is teaches us not to be given to empty laughter on every least occasion. A fool's voice is forever raised in laughter.
The eleventh degree of humility is concerned with the manner of speech which is appropriate in a monastery. We should speak gently and seriously with words that are unassuming but serious. Be brief and reasonable in whatever you have to say and do not raise your voices to insist on our own opinions. The wise are to be recognized by the fewness of their words.
The twelfth step of humility is concerned with the external impression conveyed by those dedicated to monastic life. The humility of their hearts should ever be apparent to all who see a monk or nun: they should be free of any hint of arrogance or pride in their manner or the way they look about them. They should guard their eyes and look down. They should remember at all times that they are answerable for their sins just as though they already stood before the awesome judgment of God, repeating always in their hearts the words of the publican in the gospel as he stood with his eyes cast down, saying: Lord, I am not worthy, sinner that I am, to lift my eyes to the heavens.