A Barbarian King Kneels Before Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict was born in 480 in the city of Nursia, central Italy,  into a noble and wealthy Catholic family.

Newsroom (November 14, 2021, 8:25 PM, Gaudium Press) When he was still very young, his parents sent him to Rome to study. Disgusted with the bad customs there, he decided to live in a nearby place and lead an anachronistic life.

One day, a servant girl accompanying him on the road dropped a vase, which broke. She burst into tears, but young Benedict told her not to worry; he picked up the shards, put them together, and the vase came back together.

A short time later, he went to a cave in the vicinity of Subiaco, near Rome, and settled there. His soul was so focused on God and the supernatural that he didn’t even bother with the problem of food.

At one point, he saw a basket containing a loaf of bread coming down from the top of the cave by means of a rope. He then realized that a man of God lived there – St. Roman – who received daily a loaf of bread brought to him by a raven. But with the arrival of Saint Benedict, the bird began to bring two loaves of bread…

In his life of prayer and penance, St. Benedict suffered, like everyone else in this vale of tears, temptations to impurity. On one occasion, they became so intense that the Saint took off his cloak and threw himself on a bush full of sharp thorns, getting all bloody.  The temptations disappeared and since that day he received a great grace: he never felt the sting of the flesh again.

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Punishment from an infamous priest

The fame of his sanctity began to spread. When the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the monks asked Saint Benedict to be their superior. The man of God told them that they would not accept the ascetic life he would impose on the monastery. But, due to the insistence of the religious, St. Benedict agreed.

After a few days, they put poison in a glass of water that would be served to him during the meal. The saint blessed the glass, which broke. He rebuked the nefarious monks and returned to his cave in Subiaco.

Many men asked Saint Benedict to accept them as religious under his direction. Even noble and wealthy families began to flock to Subiaco, bringing their young children and begging to be educated there.

Among these children were Mauro and Placido, who later became saints.  St. Mauro’s father donated to St. Benedict a large tract of land, on which twelve monasteries were built.

One day, St. Placidus fell into a river and was carried away by the current. Saint Benedict commanded Saint Mauro to go and fetch him. Walking on the water, he took Saint Placidus by the hair and led him safely to the shore.

A priest from a neighboring town, envious of Saint Benedict, sent him a loaf of bread as a gift, but it was poisoned. Discerning the reality, the Saint ordered a raven to take the bread and throw it in an inaccessible place; the bird obeyed immediately.

Then, that wicked priest urged some young girls, who were bathing in a nearby lake, to go to the monastery to tempt the religious. When they arrived at the monastery’s door, they began to perform lewd dances.

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Faced with these disgusting facts, Saint Benedict decided to leave Subiaco. And the infamous priest, learning of this news, climbed a huge rock, which suddenly collapsed and he died… Everyone understood that this was a punishment sent by God.

The Rule that is the source of religious perfection

Shortly thereafter, the Saint moved to Monte Cassino, situated on a large property that St. Placidus’ father had granted him. It was the year 524.

There was a pagan temple at the top of the hill. St. Benedict himself tore down the idol there, and the devil reacted with terrible screams that echoed in that solitude. The man of God repeatedly cursed the infernal monster, whose figure he alone could see.

On this very spot, the construction of a monastery began. One day, a wall fell on a boy and killed him. His father, shedding tears, but full of Faith, took the body to Saint Benedict, who was working in the fields and asked him to give him back his life. Laying his hands on the corpse, the Saint implored Our Lord that, through the faith of the father, he would bring his son back to life. His request was immediately granted.

Saint Benedict lived in Monte Cassino for 23 years. He did not become a priest nor did he write treatises on theology, but he wrote in his own handwriting a Rule for the monks, which marked the history of the Church.

Pope Victor III, who occupied the throne of St. Peter from 1086 to 1087 and was a monk at Monte Cassino, compared St. Benedict’s legislation to that of Sinai, transmitted by God to Moses. And Blessed Urban II, who preached the First Crusade at the Council of Clermont-Ferrand in 1095 and was a Benedictine monk, affirmed that from the heart of St. Benedict, as from the springs of water in the Earthly Paradise, flowed the fountain of religious perfection that is his Rule.

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Totila’s encounter with the pole of God

In 541, the Ostrogoths chose Totila as their king. Gifted with excellent military qualities, he conquered various regions of Italy, committing many crimes.

Having heard of St. Benedict, the barbarian king went to Monte Cassino to meet him. When he approached the monastery door and saw the saint sitting majestically, he prostrated himself. Three times, the Abbot ordered him to stand up, but the monarch remained prostrate. Then the Man of God raised him up with his own hands, rebuked him for the evils he had committed, and told him that he would reign for nine years.

He thanked him, asked for prayers, and from that moment on, he underwent a remarkable transformation. He then conquered other regions, but always respected the churches and treated the people with kindness.

After a siege of two years, Totila took Rome in 546 and, according to the Papal Book, lived among the Romans as a father and his sons. He died, in 552, in a battle against troops sent by the Emperor of the East, Justinian, commanded by General Narses.

Thus, the prophecy announced by St. Benedict was fulfilled: Totila reigned for nine years.

By Paulo Francisco Martos

Compiled by Sarah Gangl

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