Tag Archives: Benedictine saints and blesseds

Benedict’s sole concern

The Church invites us today, through the figure of St. Benedict, to choose the path of an uncompromising holiness: to forsake our own treasures, so as to receive in  return the hundredfold promised by Jesus, and as our inheritance, eternal life.

If the Church applies to St. Benedict the reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus we have just heard, it is because it bears witness to the fruitfulness of the offering of one’s life. Already before his life of retreat, Benedict did not leave indifferent those who came in contact with him, as testified for instance by the miracle of the sieve broken and made whole. This shining forth led Benedict towards retreat, so as to consecrate himself to God alone.

But even under the bushel, the lamp kept shining. Benedict became the Father of Western monasticism, and also the Father of Europe. After Benedict’s death, Europe was to become covered by thousands of monasteries and priories. During unsettled times, they appeared to many as places of shelter, places where one could live reconciled with one’s brothers, reconciled with God, and reconciled with nature. In these schools of the Lord’s service, monks would dwell so as to serve God alone.

Were the times in which Benedict was living more unsettled than the times we are living in today? One could not claim that. Yet, it is certain that in today’s monasteries Benedict’s disciples still have to give the testimony of their faithfulness to the answer they gave to the Lord on the day of their solemn consecration, that answer which is the one the rich young man should have given, “Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live.” In return, the Lord promises not that which is merely just, but a hundredfold, and as our inheritance, eternal life.

This hundredfold promised to the monk is from now on already a life of fraternity inside the community; it is a peace conducive to seeking God. This hundredfold is also the grace to be able to gather to sing the praises of God in choir, or also to gather in the daily manual work.

Benedict’s sole concern was to seek God, and as he did that, he became one of the main evangelizers of Europe. Today, Europe has grown old, its faith has grown cold. In the eyes of our contemporaries, the world no longer appears as the splendid work of a loving Maker, but as the fruit of a cold and soulless chance. Although telescopes may bring our eyes ever farther towards the ends of the universe, our hearts no longer know how to consider our closest friend as a being who is loved by God, or creation as a gift to be respected. The eyes of our hearts have grown dimmer, and have eventually become obscure.

Amidst silence and darkness, the monastery bell should still resound, a messenger of divine Love in a world no longer able to love, a messenger of the monks, who pray for those who no longer pray.

Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault

St Gertrude of Nivelles

Today is the feast day of St Gertrude of Nivelles, a 7th century Benedictine Abbess who lived in present day Belgium; she is not to be confused with another Gertrude who has the title of “the Great.”

St Gertrude is the patron saint of cats.

Given that in the USA the Irish celebrate St Patrick with great fanfare, one forgets that some other saints exist.

St Peter Damian

The famous Benedictine ascetic monk, bishop, cardinal, reformer and Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), is honored today in the sacred Liturgy. He was noble-born in Ravenna, Italy, the youngest of a large family. His family was a bit dysfunctional and cruel to Peter; it is recorded that his mother refused to nurse him and a brother adopted him and neglected him treating him like a slave. One would wonder how Peter survived so well! It was a brother, a priest, who provided formation and an education. At 25 Peter was renowned for this theological reflection and ability in Canon Law. University work was not too attractive to him and he left public life to be a Benedictine monk taking up asceticism.

St. Peter Damian is known today more as a church reformer than anything else because of the controversies he was drawn into. Noteworthy are the reforms he advocated in the realm of ecclesiastical office and consecrated life.

Today, we need his strength and determination to follow Christ as closely as a possible, leaving aside ambition and power and fame. Quoting the Rule of Benedict, let us not “put nothing before Christ.” Crucially, we need St Peter Damian’s influence in the renewal of Benedictine life given that so many monasteries are dying.

St Hilda of Whitby

Today, we recall at the Divine Office and Holy Mass the venerable monastic mother, St. Hilda (AD 614-680), abbess of the double monastery at Whitby. The Church historian Venerable Bede writes, “All who knew her, called her mother, because of her outstanding devotion and grace.”

Hilda is former princess of Northumbria received her monastic training in France but in 657 returned to England to found a monastery. Later known as Whitby, this monastery housed both monks and nuns. In 663 a Synod of the English Church met there where it was agreed to accept the Roman liturgical usage over the indigenous Celtic rite. Abbess Hilda supported the Celtic party. After its destruction by the Danes in the 9th century, the monastery was refounded by Benedictines. It flourished until its suppression in the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation.

Grateful for the work of Bede in recording the life of Hilda we learn:

So great was her prudence that not only ordinary folk, but kings and princes used to come and ask her advice in their difficulties and take it.  Those under her direction were required to make a thorough study of the Scriptures and occupy themselves in good works, to such effect that many were found fitted for Holy Orders and the service of God’s altar.” Bede also says of Hilda, she urged her community “to preserve the gospel peace amongst themselves and towards all others,” then, “in the words of our Lord, she passed from death to life”. The place of her burial is unknown.

“Mother Hilda was the advisor of rulers and ordinary folk as well; she insisted on the study of Holy Scripture and on the proper preparation for the priesthood; the influence of her example of peace and charity extended well beyond the walls of her monastery.

The Catholic Church honors the memory of St Hilda today, while Orthodox Church liturgically recalls Hilda on July 14th.

(ht NS)

Blessed Herman the Crippled

Today is the feast day of Blessed Herman the Cripple (also known as Hermannus Contractus, or Herman of Reichenau, 1013-1054), monk, 11th century scholar, composer, musical theorist, mathematician, and astronomer.

Blessed Herman composed the Marian prayers Alma Redemptoris Mater, and the Salve Regina (also known as the “Hail Holy Queen”) which we pray each time we pray the Holy Rosary. Despite significant physical limitations and suffering, the bright and contemplative mind of Blessed Herman advanced not only our understanding of the physical world, but furthered our devotion to Our Blessed Mother. His contributions to both science and faith remind us that regardless of appearance or apparent physical abilities, we each possess immense God-given gifts and talents! He was called “The Wonder of His Age.”

A hundred years after Blessed Herman died, Saint Bernard added the O Clemens, O Pia, O Dulcis Virgo Maria to the Salve Regina, genuflecting three times as he processed to the altar in the cathedral of Speyers in 1146 on a mission from Pope Eugene III as his legate to Emperor Conrad III in Germany.

(DG sourced)

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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