Abba Anthony said, ‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”’

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. The Alphabetical Collection, translated by Benedicta Ward, SLG, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975 [1984]) 2.

Humility is one of the central mysteries around which our life circles. I have always found it a mystery and have sometimes found myself puzzling over what it means, caught between the rather problematic doormat mentality and the equally problematic culture of self-assertion. Of course humility in the monastic tradition is intimately related to self-knowledge, to understanding our own identity in the eyes of God and our place among our brothers and sisters. But even this can too easily become a matter of theoretical knowledge. I suspect that true humility has more to do with that which is given to us, with the insights that we catch glimpses of in our struggle to acknowledge reality as it is, with the confrontation with our own weakness that impels us to throw ourselves onto the mercy of God, and with the compassion that the truly humble radiate simply by who they are. And that has a power that is beyond words or concepts.

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