Benedict, Abbot Founder (RM) +
Born in Nursia, Italy, c. 490; died at Monte Cassino, 543; feast day formerly March 21.
"If you are really a servant of Jesus Christ, let the chain of love hold you firm in your resolve, not a chain of iron."
"Idleness is the enemy of the soul."
"The first degree of humility is obedience without delay."
Nearly everything we know about St. Benedict comes from the Dialogues of Pope Saint Gregory the Great and from what we can deduce from his Rule.
In the days when monasticism was regarded as the most religious way of life, though it led to many abuses and encouraged the view that the Christian could best serve God by withdrawing from the world, it was St. Benedict who brought to it a new sense of order and significance. He was born in central Italy of good family, was educated at Rome, at 14 years of age joined a Christian group outside the city, and afterwards lived as a hermit in a mountain cave. During this period he made a close study of the Scriptures, and for the rest of his life, in complete self-dedication, gave all that God asked. "The finger of God had only to point, and he followed whatever the cost." The cave was a hidden retreat upon a barren mountainside, its whereabouts known only to a single friend who brought him food in secret, lowering it by rope over the mountain edge. After three years he was chosen by the monks of a neighboring monastery to be their abbot, but so strict was his discipline and so stern his rebukes of their laxity that they sought to remove him, even attempting to poison him, and he was glad to escape to his mountain refuge.
But now he could not be alone, for disciples flocked to him. They came from every rank of life, and his cave was no longer convenient in view of the demands made upon him. He was subjected also to the jealous persecution of a local priest. In 527, therefore, he travelled to Monte Cassino, 85 miles southeast of Rome, on the summit of which stood an altar to Apollo; there he tore down the pagan shrine and established the greatest and most famous of all monasteries, which became the home of the Benedictine Order. The place itself was symbolic, for as on the massive rock he built a temple to God, so also upon enduring foundatiuons he built a temple of the Spirit. When he died there were 14 Benedictine communities, and by the 14th century there were over 30,000.
At Monte Cassino he established his famous Rule which changed and renewed the monastic life of Europe. He provided against vagabondage, immorality, and other evils then prevalent in religious houses. A monk was to be a soldier of God, "a member of a spiritual garrison holding duty for Christ in a hostile world"; and to be always on duty. It was a great and happy brotherhood with a strong family unity, so that wherever its members went they felt a common bond, and drew their strength from their home at Cassino, built upon the rock.
He believed in the moral value of work; for idleness, he said, is hostile to the soul, and manual labor is part of the true pattern and glory of life. Thus work and study were joyfully intermingled, and each of his monasteries became a colony of God, a mission station with a civilizing influence in the dark night of Northern Europe. In lands conquered by invaders with the sword, he and his followers conquered by the Cross, and brought to men the arts and virtues of peace. "The chaos of the empire was the opportunity of the Church." The ruins of Fountains, Rievaulx, Tintern, and other abbeys indicate the size of these Christian settlements, and Canterbury itself, like many of our cathedrals, was a Benedictine foundation (Gill).
In the Dialogues the story is ended: "I had told you that Benedict wanted something and could not attain it. If we consider the matter there is no doubt that he wanted the sky to remain as clear as it had been when he arrive; but his will was opposed by a miracle which the heart of a woman obtained from Almighty God. And it is not astonishing that he should be overcome by this woman who desired to be with her brother for a longer time, for it is writtenin St. John: 'God is love.' And it was by the just decree of God that she, who loved more, ws the more powerful."
From the Rule of St. Benedict:
"Help those who are in trouble.
"Console the afflicted.
"Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
"Speak the truth from your heart as from your mouth.
"Attribute the good that you find in yourself to God, and not to yourself.
"Desire eternal life with all the ardor of your soul.
"Listen willingly to the Holy Scriptures.
"Daily confess your past faults to God in your prayers with tears and groans, and in the future corect them.
"In all things obey the instructions of the Abbot even if, God forbid, he should go astray in his works, remembering this precept of the Lord: Do what they say, but not what they do.
"Do not try to pass yourself off as a saint before being one, but become one first, so that it may be said more truly of you that you are a Saint.
"Honor those who are old.
"Love those who are younger.
"Pray for your enemies in the love of Christ.
"Make peace, before the setting of the sun, with those from whom you have been separated by discord.
"And never despair of the mercy of God."
About Saints of the Day
These summaries were prepared in 1998 by St. Patrick's parishioner Katherine I. Rabenstein and are reproduced on www.saintpatrickdc.org with the permission of the author. Note that the content has not been updated since that time and represents the research of the author. An alphabetical index of all saints on our site is available. Source references are also available. HTML formatting © 2007-2008 by St. Patrick's Catholic Church, Washington, D.C.