convent dietrich von hildebrand
Who Needs Adjustment Problems? We Always Have the Heart of the Matter.6:00:00 AMEmma Lindle
The things we do have the power to educate us on who we are. A couple of years ago I entered the convent and many aspects of the life began educating me at the deepest level of my being. After making the decision to leave, I encountered an interesting difficulty; I had to learn how to hold on to the heart of what I had received while letting go of the practical, daily activities that helped facilitate this learning. One thing I learned was that as a person I was made to be receptive to life, and in this sense life was a gift. I didn’t go out to Walmart to buy a new toothbrush; I asked a sister for one. I didn’t plan my meals for the week; I relied on the kitchen sister. I didn’t choose my classes for the year; I entrusted myself to the community and received their formation. All of these things were done in the context of community life. Life was a gift I received. The knowledge of the work the other sisters were doing to provide the means for these gifts preserved me from a feeling of entitlement and kept the spirit of the gift alive. Now these gifts sometimes came in the form of shampoo I didn’t prefer or leftovers I was sick of seeing, but they were nonetheless gifts. I was receiving them and not getting them myself.
As I entered back into the world, I was working for money for school, making my own meals, and planning my own daily schedule and academic goals. The little aspects of ‘abandoned’ receptivity and the context of community were not as tangible. I was beginning to see the things I received as entitlements; “I inherently deserve these things.” This attitude grew from the circumstances of feeling I had to provide for myself and make my own way in the world. Reality had not changed, for everything was still a gift, but it became harder for me to see and understand.
One morning last spring I was driving into work. I had left the convent a few months prior and was nannying to earn money to go back to school. The acute awareness of my life as a gift was wearing thin. A spirit of entitlement was replacing it. I was listening to a morning radio show that was highlighting an address Pope Francis gave to students in Ecuador. His words struck me:
“Do you realize that this time of study is not only a right, but a privilege? How many of your friends, known or unknown, would like to have a place in this house but, for various reasons, do not? To what extent do our studies help us feel solidarity with them?”
A privilege. Solidarity. These were redeeming words. I had begun to fix my eyes on my work and my choices. Sister was no longer standing there handing me toothpaste or telling me what classes I would be taking. Without the concrete example of another providing for me, my eyes turned to the heavy weight of myself. The word privilege carried my gaze from my work and choices to my neighbor and God. I was awakened to the receptivity of life when I could see my education as a gift instead of an entitlement. There are people who can’t go to school, but for me the circumstances are being provided. The scholarships, the prior education, and the familial support are all gifts I received that help me go to college. I didn’t receive them because I’m an extra special individual entitled to education. I did not choose my family, my economic status, or how I would be educated as a child. These things were given to me as a gift. Education as an entitlement places me above society. Education as a gift places me within society. The human heart longs more for community than for superiority.
We all long to be freed from the isolating power of entitlement. We all long to see reality as a gift.
Shedding Light on Terms
In Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book, Humility: Wellspring of Virtue, he begins by describing humility as the antithesis to pride. Today, a feeling of entitlement is a manifestation of pride. For example, we feel entitled to a college education, a child, or a credit card in part because we dethrone values and God (11). Describing the prideful man, Hildebrand says, “frequently enough his endeavor takes the form of an attempt at enthroning some false value in the place of the true ones” (11). Entitlement seems to be a source of superiority and so the prideful man clings to it. In reality, it is a desperate and weak cry for validation in false values. “Humility joyfully assents to creatureliness” (28). This assent gives the strength we look for in the superiority of entitlement.
Humility and Creatureliness
The Scriptures say, “what do you have that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7). The prideful man is free to become humble as he grows in knowledge of his status as a creature. The creature does not believe he inherently deserves things. He does not see himself as extra special. The creature is too busy receiving all his life is. The humble student receives his education as a gift, and uses it creatively to give himself to God and to others. Hildebrand explains that the humble man “grasps the objective meaning of values in its independence from the pursuits of the subject, and honors them with an unhampered and adequate response” (17-18). The student grasps the values of truth, generosity, and justice. He honors the truth by carefully receiving the knowledge that is handed on to him. He honors the generosity of those who have compiled and worked through the information he is now receiving. He honors justice by serving his friends, family and community from the education he’s received. The humble student throws off the attitude of entitlement, abandons his desire for superiority, and receives his education as a gift. Practically, he does this by responding to values.
Carrying the Heart of the Matter
We all face changes. As summer approaches, many people’s daily circumstances will change. It is tempting in these times to cling to our projects, our work, or relationships and say I’m entitled to these things. Bitterness begins to rise in our hearts if they’re taken away. Pride begins to enslave us from contact with others. Let us instead cling to the heart of the matter: all we receive, all of life’s circumstances, are a gift. With courage we can endow them with value.