Saint Benedict, Patriarch of Catholic Monasticism

St. Benedict of Nursia is a glorious Patriarch whose spirit spread throughout Christian Civilization.

Newsroom (12/07/2020 11:00 AM, Gaudium Press ) The Saints testify, with the example of their lives, that the practice of virtue is possible for everyone.

Every Saint is a hero. To be a hero involves a continuous struggle, first against oneself – because of passions unregulated by original sin – and then against all that opposes the ideal embraced. It is evident, therefore, that the lives of the great luminaries of virtue who have gone before us have been filled with suffering, pain and sacrifice.

The man who does not follow the paths of virtue will create for himself a series of principles which justify his bad conduct or mitigate the gravity of his acts. These principles often attack the merit of the Saints, since they are often accused of being exceptional people who did not have to face the hardships of the life in the world, but who left the common life and went to deserted places to lead a life where temptations were not present; nor even, supposedly, were they faced with the difficulties proper to those who live in the daily complications of the time. And again, even Saints who have lived in the world, by the fact that they have turned wholly to God and religion, are said to be exempt from a series of complications inherent in human nature. This is a fatal deception! Little is known of the incalculable sufferings and trials of the Saints, for their humility prevents them from speaking of themselves and their good deeds.

Proof of how difficult and serious the path of holiness is, and how hated it is by the wicked, but at the same time the only source of true joy and the ideal that everyone should strive to attain, was the life of St. Benedict, whose feast the Church celebrates on 11 July. Let us consider some aspects of his story, and see how God fills those who dedicate themselves to His cause with gifts and virtues.

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Life of St. Benedict

Born of a noble family in Norcia in the year 480, the young Benedict felt within his soul the call to dedicate himself entirely to God through a solitary life. However, his parents’ wishes were different and they sent the boy to Rome to complete his studies. Tired of living in the midst of the moral decadence that abounded in that city, he abandoned everything that tied him to the world: possessions, house, and honours, and left to take refuge in a deserted place where he could lead a life of contemplation.

In his first refuge, in the town of Enfide, he worked miracles, such as mending a clay sieve that his nanny had carelessly dropped.

Within a short time, the reputation of holiness of this man of God spread, and he was forced to look elsewhere for the solitude he had so longed for. The place he chose was Subiaco, where he settled in a small cave. During this period his material nourishment was a piece of bread that he received from Romano, a monk who lived in a nearby monastery, and who lowered the food into the Saint’s cave by means of a rope. It was during this time that the Saint overcame one of the most terrible trials he had ever undergone. Urged tenaciously by diabolical suggestions against the virtue of purity, he threw himself, stripped of his clothing, into a thorn bush, which lacerated his whole body. However, his soul was completely purified from the tricks of the tempter.

The danger of lukewarmness

Soon after, some monks, who were leading a lukewarm life and had no lively desire for holiness, came to ask the holy man to assume the position of abbot of the monastery, as the previous abbot had died. He accepted only because of the insistence of the friars.

However, the conduct of these decadent religious men made it clear to posterity that the lukewarm are either converted by means of an effective grace, or they will always go down the wrong path. Moved by the hatred that radicalism arouses in those who want to live in their comforts, they fulfilled the words of the wise man: “The wicked say, ‘Let us lie in wait for the righteous, for his presence troubles us; he opposes our way of acting, he rebukes in us the transgressions of the law, and reproves us for the faults against our discipline'” (Wis 2:12). In fact, they tried to kill the holy abbot by offering him a cup of wine mixed with poison. But the moment St. Benedict blessed it, the cup broke, spilling all the liquid it contained.

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After this terrible episode, the Saint returned to the solitude of his cave. His fame spread so widely that other men, wishing to resemble the Saint of Subiaco, flocked there to live under his guidance. Because of the large number of hermits, St. Benedict founded twelve monasteries, constituting the initial nucleus of the Benedictine Order.

The expansion of the work of St. Benedict

Persecuted once again by his enemies, St. Benedict was forced to move to Cassino, where he founded a monastery, built by the monks themselves, giving rise to the famous Monte Cassino.

St. Benedict was so gracious that distinguished men came to visit him continually. Princes, bishops, and notable men would come for advice and find refreshment in his words and spirit.

In order to guide the discipline and spirituality of the monks, in accordance with the charism of their Founder, the holy abbot wrote the Rule of the Monks. In fact, he harmonized prayer and concrete actions, giving to each its own value. That being, to detach the soul from the things of this world, elevating it unhindered to heavenly contemplations. For centuries, this set of rules governed almost all monastic life in the West.

Finally, on 21 March, 547, Saint Benedict surrendered his soul to God, leaving behind him on earth a work that would strengthen Christianity and sustain fidelity to a truly Catholic and religious spirit.

Having received from Heaven the approach of his death six days beforehand, he ordered a grave to be prepared. He was soon stricken with a high fever and died on his feet, supported by his spiritual sons, while saying his last prayer.

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Patriarch of monasticism

St. Benedict is known as the Patriarch of Western Monasticism because he was the spiritual Father of an enormous family of souls who, following the Benedictine spirit and its Rule, spread its spirit throughout Western civilization.

The Holy Founder was a seed which germinated into a huge redwood tree, from which the greatness of Western civilization blossomed. That charism which was born in Monte Cassino, and later, in the 10th century, gave birth to the Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, which came to have 17,000 monasteries subordinate to it. Some famous universities, such as those of Paris, Cambridge, Bologna, Oviedo, Salamanca and Salzburg emerged as offshoots of Benedictine colleges. More than 30 Popes followed the Rule of this holy man. Numerous cardinals, bishops and holy doctors followed him as master. The spirit of St. Benedict influenced the culture, customs and institutions of an entire civilization that made up Medieval Christianity.

We see how, throughout history, God raises up men specially called to represent, by their lives, the presence of the Creator himself among men. They are specially chosen souls who transmit their spirit, their way of being, their wisdom to those who wish to follow them. God is the Lord of History and never leaves humanity without a guide who can lead it to Heaven. The question is to know how to meet this chosen man and love him, soaking in his spirit and his virtues.

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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