St. Benedict: Patriarch of Western Monasticism

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St. Benedict had a sister named Scholastica; she who developed a work that was intertwined with that of St. Benedict and which was the foundation of the Benedictine Order.

Newsroom (Nov 23, 2021 08:30 AM, Gaudium Press) The convent where St. Scholastica settled was on a hill next to Monte Cassino. Between the two convents was a valley where a small oratory was built, and there, St. Benedict held a colloquy with his sister once a year.

One day, accompanied by some monks, he went to the oratory to converse with St. Scholastica. After hours of conversation, realizing that her brother was about to leave, she said to him:

       “ I beg you not to leave me tonight so that we can continue to talk about the joys of Paradise.

       “What do you ask of me, my sister? It is impossible for me to spend the night outside my cell.”

Then, she put her elbows on the table, bowed her head supported by her intertwined hands and began to pray, shedding torrents of tears. Suddenly, the sky, which had been radiant until that moment, clouded over and a violent storm broke out. Such was the amount of water, lightning and thunder that it became impossible to leave the place.

 Turning to his sister, St. Benedict said:

       “What have you done?”

St. Scholastica replied:

      “ I asked you, and you refused. So I turned to God and He answered me.

Thus, the conversation continued throughout the night, and in the morning, they said goodbye to each other.

The irreplaceable and incomparable role of St. Scholastica

Three days later, from the window of his cell, St. Benedict saw the soul of St. Scholastica, in the form of a dove, flying up to Heaven. He sent for the venerable body of his sister and placed it in the tomb he had provided for himself at Monte Cassino.

Some time later, St. Benedict called his monks together and announced that the hour was approaching when he would leave them. Having been overcome by an intense fever, he received the Holy Eucharist; then he stood up, opened his venerable hands, prayed, and his soul was taken to Heaven. It was 21 March, 547.

He was buried next to his sister, in the tomb that he had ordered to be built on the same spot where the altar of Apollo had existed, but which had been destroyed by the rod of God.

About St. Scholastica, Dr. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira stated that she “developed a work intertwined with [St. Benedict’s], in founding the Benedictines.

“At a time when the social action of these religious women seemed so necessary, they engaged in something much more important: they prayed and sacrificed. And by their example, they made it clear that the fruitfulness of the male branch was due to the fact that there was a female branch that prayed and immolated itself.

“Thus we see the admirable, irreplaceable, and incomparable role of St. Scholastica.”

Perfume of good medieval feudalism

Regarding St. Benedict and the work he accomplished, Dr. Plinio said:

This man of God “was the Patriarch of the monks of the West, for Western monasticism was born of him. He founded a glorious religious Order which spread throughout Europe, and brought about the conversion of barbarians in one of the most difficult situations in the life of the Catholic Church. It was internally devoured by the corrupting germs of Roman paganism, against which he had fought.

“Moreover, this pagan world itself was harassed by the barbarian invaders of the Roman Empire of the West, who were either Arians perverted by the bishop, Ulfilas, or completely pagan; but in one way or another both were enemies of the Church.

“When the tremendous uproar of the invasion of the Western Empire by the barbarian hordes took place, it was the Benedictine friars who worked for the conversion of the barbarians, especially in the most difficult part; that is, where there was no Roman Empire, Christianity had not yet penetrated, and one had to work in the middle of the jungle.”

St. Benedict had a countless number of spiritual sons – these were Benedictine religious men – who expanded across the continent and poured prodigious influence into the formation and spread of the spirit of the Middle Ages. […]

“England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Bohemia, Austria and also part of Hungary were converted thanks to the impulse of this immense religious family of the Benedictines, who undertook their apostolic gesture in a highly prestigious way.

“As an aside, it must be said that prestige and Benedictinism are almost inseparable. Throughout the life of the Church, the Order of St. Benedict has retained a kind of influence and rank that still retains a scent of good medieval feudalism.

The people went in pursuit of the Benedictines

“But how did the sons of the holy Patriarch act?

“They went to the unbelieving peoples, preached missions, and founded monasteries. These monasteries were usually built in a deserted place. There, they would sing, practice the Liturgy, distribute alms to the poor who came forward, cut down forests, and plant regular crops to dry up swamps, etc.

“Because of the influence that they acquired over souls, especially through their virtues, populations and cities were formed around their monasteries. When these friars remained solitary, people went from the cities to visit them; their action radiated from a distance, which helped the secular clergy to act.

“It became a precious thing for any town to have a Benedictine monastery installed in its vicinity. It was not the proper thing for these convents and abbeys to exist within urban limits: they were always kept apart, until the moment when they could no longer escape the influx of people who wanted to be closer and closer to them, and who then surrounded them.

However, their characteristic apostolate was that, from afar, they would shine with all their radiance, attract with all their perfume, and cause people to follow them. This is still a beautiful way of acting for the benefit of souls.”

By Paulo Francisco Martos

Notions of Church History

Compiled by Sandra Chisholm

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