During COVID-19, the faithful need to practice humility like never before

[Here’s my religion column for this Sunday’s July 12 Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette. As I’ve thought about what might happen with the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasing challenges between Whites & African-Americans, and the coming elections this November, I have been able to settle myself by spending time this summer with the “Rule of St. Benedict.” In his rule of 73 encouragements & admonitions, Benedict spends a lot of time entreating the faithful to embrace humility more fully in their lives. He says that a humble life is a good life. As I’ve thought about it, I think he’s right. So I took Benedict’s thoughts on humility, rewrote them and turned them into a religion column for Sunday, July 12. Here it is. …


Having served in the ministry in Champaign-Urbana area for more than 40 years, I know that the ministry is not for the faint of heart. Still, sometimes I look back on my early days of campus ministry at the University of Illinois and say, “Ah, the good old days.” I met students in coffee shops, explained theological ideas as I wrote on napkins, pulled books of theology from my backpack and thought “This is the life.” But then I remember that after a few years as a campus minister, several board members who oversaw my ministry tried to get me fired because of some of my views.

Nope, the good old days never existed. We take each season and each day as it comes. So, this summer we are doing our best to try and understand what COVID-19 means for our future. No one pines away for the good old days before Penicillin.  

To calm my own heart, this summer I have been returning to “The Rule of Saint Benedict,” a time-honored set of directives for monastic life written by Benedict of Nursia in Italy in the 6th century. Benedict was educated in Rome at a time when pagan Arian tribes had overrun the civilized world. The church was torn by conflict, and civil and religious authorities were corrupt. Into that world, Saint Benedict wrote 73 admonitions or rules for life, that have guided the faithful for centuries.

Benedict put extra emphases on certain rules, among them humility. Feeling that humility is so central to a full life, he divided explaining humility into 12 stages. As I wonder and pray about the implications of COVID-19, with race relations front and center and the coming uncertain Presidential election this Fall, St. Benedict’s 12 stages of humility has been my guide.  

  1. Humility sees all of life as sacred. Every moment is irreplaceable, every moment hallowed. Knowing this, we constantly practice kindness, counting others better than ourselves.
  2. Human will is insatiable. Humility know this and says, “Don’t trust your own will.” When we resist our cravings, we discover who we are made to be. Because at every turn there is something else to acquire and something else to distract our attention, we daily surrender to the will of God, knowing that God alone can all make all things new.
  3. Accept limitations. The famous Serenity prayer is the foundation for this stage of humility.
  4. Be patient. In the face of inequity, injury and contradiction, humility says patience is a great virtue. Strive to live a quiet life. Remember that we are shaped by experience and refined by fire.
  5. Accept your faults. Humility calls for transparency. When we hide who we are, everyone loses.
  6. Be content. When life is unfair or demeaning, St. Benedict says be content with your lot in life, including the work you are given to do. Our outlook on life is critical, because most of what happens to us is not inherently good or bad.
  7. Life does not center on you. Because everything is fleeting, our best idea, our greatest triumph, or for that matter our meanest action, lasts no longer than a footprint in the sand. The pounding drum of humility says, “Life is not just about you. Get over it.”
  8. No person is an island. Therefore, take no action except along a path established for us by those whom we know to be true guides, both past and present. None of us is our own best guide. There always are others that know as much, or more, than we do.
  9. We are not the judge. We do not understand another person’s heart. Who of us can ever understand the infinite forces at work at any moment in someone’s life? Thus, we offer advice only when requested, and then only with sincere misgiving.
  10. Show deep empathy. We are superior to no one. True humility keeps us from ever taking pleasure in someone’s misfortunes.
  11. Speak gently and briefly. Humility knows the less we say, the less we have to say. When we talk, we speak candidly. When we listen, our lips are shut and our ears are open.
  12. Maintain a humble demeanor. Whether at work, when shopping, in speaking or at rest, we constantly think of ourselves with sober judgment, no matter the occasion.

St. Benedict believed these 12 elements of humility can become habitual and a natural part of our daily lives. With the uncertainty facing us at this moment in our country, is there any question but that we all need these habits of humility developed more fully? I certainly think Jesus thought so when he said, “Blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the earth.”