The seventh degree of humility is that he consider himself lower and of less account
than anyone else, and this not only in verbal protestation but also with the most heartfelt inner conviction, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet, “But I am a worm and no man, the scorn of men and the outcast of the people” (Ps. 21:7). “After being exalted, I have been humbled and covered with confusion” (Pa. 87:16).
And again, “It is good for me that You have humbled me, that I may learn Your commandments” (Ps. 118:71,73).
It might seem strange to refer to one’s self in the terms St. Benedict uses, to belittle and despise one’s self, especially in an age of affirmation and self-assertion (there is, however, a place for some form of affirmation and self-assertion for one’s mental health). I think the key to properly understanding this step is keeping in mind the previous one. In the previous step we were already to compare ourselves to a worthless workman. In Luke’s Gospel the worthless workman is he who has done his obligation for the Kingdon of God; that doing what the Lord has commanded out of a sense of obligation, to only fulfill the law, while good in itself, is not the perfect charity that is expected of the Christian.
How can I speak of myself in those terms? It’s not that hard when sometimes I think about how I or others around me speak of other people. We heap scorn, we mock, we belittle, we think them less than worthless. Even if the belittling is not done out of spite, and only “for a laugh” (especially in their abscence), what does it say about how I view my neighbor? Certain environments lend themselves more easily to these kinds of attitudes. Do I do my best to avoid them? Or, when that is not possible, do I keep watch over my mouth and thoughts?
It’s not enough for St. Benedict that we say that we are little, but that we feel it in our innermost recesses. How can I stand in judgement of others when I have receieved and squandered so many graces? If I have made my way to a monastic family, it is because the grace of God has guided me; yet even still I do not turn completely from sin. I know that I have been given these riches. I cannot say the same about my neighbor. I cannot know the war that rages in his soul, or if his soul still lies dead within. I do not know the circumstances that have brought him to where he is at this moment. All I can be sure of is that I have received a talent, dug a hole in the ground and burried it therein. I have received the Kingdom for an inheritence and yet prefer to squander it for a bowl of lentils. How can I not be the most worthless of men?