July 11th - St. Benedict, Abbot and Confessor
WHAT does it take to live like a Christian? The life of Saint Benedict
is one answer to this question, and such an effective one that it made
history. The saint was born in the Italian town of Nursia, about the
year 470, and as a young boy was sent by his family to be educated at
Rome. An education in Rome at that time was "liberal" in more than the
academic sense. Student life was one long dissipation, and Benedict
soon realized that, unless he wanted to be drawn into the revelry, he
would have to leave the city.
Benedict had come to Rome with an elderly family nurse, sent along to
look after his needs. With the old woman, he went eastward from Rome
into the Sabine Mountains, stopping at the small village of Enfide.
His stay there was short because of a miracle he worked for his nurse,
the mending of an earthenware sieve. This was only the first miracle
of many that were to attract people to Benedict, and when the people
of Enfide heard of this particular occurrence they began to visit him
Realizing that he was about to become a public exhibit, Benedict
decided to move. This time he went alone, climbing higher into the
mountains. Benedict finally found himself in a desolate region called
Subiaco. A few monks lived in the area, and one of them helped
Benedict install himself in a cave high up in the wall of a cliff,
where he remained for the next three years. His only contact with the
world was through the friendly monk, who occasionally lowered food to
him in a basket.
Prayer and penance were Benedict's main activities during this time.
It was a trying period, made harder by terrible temptations to return
to the pleasures of the world. But Benedict mastered himself and at
the end of three years decided that God wished him to continue living
in solitude as a monk. As God arranged it, Benedict was to continue
living as a monk but not by himself.
Monks from the nearby monastery of Vicovaro had heard of this unusual
young recluse and, when their abbot died, they sent a deputation to
Benedict, requesting him to be their new abbot. Benedict agreed; but
when he arrived at the monastery and began some much-needed reforms,
trouble began. Most of the monks enjoyed their loose ways and decided
to have no more of the young abbot's reforms--indeed, to have no more
of him at all. One evening, poison was put into Benedict's cup of
wine. When the wine was brought to him and Benedict made his usual
sign of the cross over the cup, it shattered immediately as if it had
been hurled against a rock. With a reproachful look, Benedict told the
monks to find an abbot more to their liking, left the monastery, and
returned to his cave.
But a solitary existence was impossible for him now; his reputation
had grown and crowds of people flocked to see him. Most of these were
serious-minded men who were concerned with leading a Christian life in
a society that had little use for Christianity. Benedict saw that
these men needed guidance and consented to leave his cave to become
their leader. Founding twelve monasteries in the neighborhood of
Subiaco, he settled his followers in them and established himself in
the monastery of Saint Clement. Later, he went to Monte Cassino,
southeast of Rome, and there founded the monastery that was to become
the largest and best known in Europe.
When Benedict began to organize his monks at Subiaco and Monte
Cassino, he realized that something different was needed from the
general type of monasticism then prevalent. This was of Eastern origin
and had degenerated into a very haphazard affair. Monks had no common
life, they tried to outdo each other in austerities, and they wandered
about from monastery to monastery as their fancy dictated. In place of
all this, Benedict substituted a life centered around a common
task--the chanting of the Opus Dei, or Divine Office--and dedicated to
useful labor, both intellectual and physical, as well as to private
prayer and reasonable forms of penance.
At Monte Cassino Benedict wrote his regulations for monastic life in
his Rule, which was to become one of the most important documents in
the history of Europe. This Rule, which is summarized in the
Benedictine motto of ora et labora (pray and work), was to become the
inspiration of most of the monasticism of the West. European
civilization itself was largely preserved through the work of
Christian monks who had Benedict as their spiritual father, and by
others who adapted the wisdom of Benedict's way of life to their own
circumstances in the world.
The saint lived his last years at Monte Cassino, and Saint Gregory the
Great (whose Dialogues are the only source we have for Benedict's
life) informs us that sometime about the year 547, not long after a
last visit with his sister, Saint Scholastica, Benedict died a most
happy death, surrounded by his monks and looking toward heaven.
“Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do
not pamper yourself, but love fasting.” -St. Benedict
“Prefer nothing, absolutely nothing, to the love of Christ.” -St. Benedict
“Be careful to be gentle, lest in removing the rust, you break the
“He who labours as he prays,
lifts his heart to God with his hands.”
“Whenever you begin any good work
you should first of all,
make a most pressing appeal
to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.”
Shine through me Lord!
Dear Lord, help me to spread Your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being
so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me
and be so in me, that every soul I come in contact with,
may feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me
but only You, O Lord!
Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as You do;
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Lord, will be all from You;
none of it will be mine.
It will be You shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You in the way which You love best,
by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching,
not by words but by example,
by the catching force,
the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You. Amen.
--Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman