Tag Archives: St Benedict

St Benedict’s Legacy on Work

Our Catholic Faith, I believe, has something important to say to the concerns of post-modernity, especially regarding matters of faith and reason AND faith and the public order. Work –our labor– is one of those things that Catholicism speaks eloquently about. We still live with the legacy of Marx and his kind when it comes to understanding the role and place of work. Contrary to Marxism’s theory of alienation, we would say, human labor does have meaning and there is a dignity to the process of work and the worker.

The following is an excerpt of a 1980 letter sent to the Benedictines by John Paul II on the 1500th anniversary of monastic life. John Paul writes:

Man’s face is often wet with tears impelling him to pray, but these tears do not always spring from sincere compunction or excessive joy. For often tears of sorrow and disturbance  ow from those whose human dignity is disregarded, those who cannot achieve what they justly desire, and who cannot do the work that suits their needs and talents.

St Benedict lived in a civil society deformed by injustices. The human person frequently counted for nothing and was treated as a criminal. In a social structure drawn up in orders, the most wretched were segregated and reduced to slavery. The poor grew poorer, while the rich grew richer and richer. Yet this remarkable man willed to found the monastic community on the prescriptions of the Gospel. He restored man to his integral condition, no matter what social order or rank he came from. He provided for the needs of each according to the norms of a wise distributive justice. He assigned significant duties to individuals, duties which cohered aptly with other duties. He considered the conditions of the weak, but left no room for easy laziness. He allowed space for the cleverness of others lest they feel hemmed in, or rather, so that they might be stimulated to give their best. Thus he removed the pretext of a light and sometimes justified murmuring, and brought about the conditions of true peace.

Man is not reckoned by St Benedict as a kind of nameless machine, which someone uses to get the maximum profit, providing no moral justification to the worker and denying him a just wage. It should be noted that in his time work was usually done by slaves who were denied the status of human beings. Benedict considered work, however it happens to be done, as an essential part of the life and obliges each monk to it, making it a duty in conscience. This labor is to be borne ‘for the sake of obedience and expiation’, since indeed pain and sweat are attached to any truly efficacious effort. But this distress has a redemptive character when it purifies a man from sin, and it ennobles the things carefully worked on and also the environment where the work is done.

St Benedict, leading an earthly life in which work and prayer were properly balanced, in this way happily inserts work into the supernatural way of considering life. By doing so, he helps man to know himself as God’s fellow-worker, and truly he becomes such when his person, acting with a certain creative energy, is enhanced in an all-round way. Human action is carried out in a contemplative manner, and contemplation attains a certain dynamic quality. It influences the work itself and throws light on the ends proposed for the work.

Work is, therefore, not performed solely in order to avoid the idleness which enfeebles minds, but also and indeed chiefly, to enable a man to grow gradually as a person mindful of his duties and careful about them. Also, talents perhaps concealed deep inside the person may be discovered, and brought to fruition for the common good, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’.

Work is not relieved of its burden of the harsh clash of forces, but a new interior impulse is added to it. The monk is united to God not in spite of his work but through it, because ‘while working with hand or mind he continually raises himself to Christ’.

Thus it happens that even lowly and insignificant work is done with a certain dignity, and becomes a vital part of ‘that sovereign effort by which God alone is sought in solitude and silence, so that to such a life is added the vigor of continual prayer, the sacrifice of praise, celebrated and consummated together, under the influence of cheerful fraternal charity’.

Europe became a Christian land chiefly because sons of St Benedict gave our ancestors a comprehensive instruction, not only teaching them arts and crafts but also infusing into them the spirit of the Gospel which is needed for the protection of the spiritual treasures of the human person. The paganism which was formerly drawn over to the Gospel by the many hands of missionary monks is now spreading more and more in the Western world, and it is both the cause and the effect of the loss of the Christian way of esteeming work and its dignity.

Unless Christ endows human action with a constant lofty meaning, the worker becomes the slave –a special kind of slave unique to modern times– of profit and industry. On the contrary, Benedict affirms the urgent necessity of giving a spiritual character to work, enlarging the purpose of human labour so that it can escape the excessive application of the technical arts and the excessive greed for what is useful to one’s self.

(An excerpt from Pope St John Paul II’s 1980 Apostolic Letter for the Fifteenth Centenary of the Birth of St Benedict)

St Benedict –our Father

Sts Benedict, Placid and MaurusAt the Introit, we sing today on the feast of Saint Benedict:

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating the feast in honor of Benedict, in whose happy solemnity. The angels rejoice and praise the Son of God.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, on his holy mountain. (Ps. 47:2)

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI wrote this about this man of blessings:

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with his Rule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

Saint John Paul II

JPIIBlessed  Feast of Pope Saint John Paul II!

Saint John Paul II: “In its present form, inspired above all by Saint Benedict, Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and dedicated themselves to him, “preferring nothing to the love of Christ”.The monks of today likewise strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience and stability, and in persevering dedication to meditation on God’s word (lectio divina), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer.”
–Vita Consecrata, 6

St Benedict

BVM Ss Benedict and ScholasticaToday, the Church honors Saint Benedict (the Translation of the Relics, not the Transitus which is celebrated in March), Patron of Europe. Those over at the Miraculous Medal apostolate have proposed this prayer to Benedict. Every Benedictine monk, nun, sister and oblate has a sincere devotion the Blessed Mother.

Dear Saint Benedict, You are a ‘blessing’ indeed, as your name indicates. Practicing what you preached, you founded the monastic tradition of the West by joining prayer to labor for God – both liturgical and private prayer. Help all religious to follow their Rule and be true to their vocation. May they labor and pay for the world to the greater glory of God.

God our Father, You made St. Benedict an outstanding guide to teach men how to live in Your service. Grant that by preferring Your love to everything else, we may walk in the  way of Your commandments. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

Saint Benedict

Death of St BenedictSaint Benedict, [the Father of Western Monasticism (480-543)] blessed by grace as his prophetic name seemed to foretell, was born of a noble Italian family in Umbria, in the year 480. As a boy he showed great inclination for virtue, and maturity in his actions. He was sent to Rome at the age of seven, to be placed in the public schools. At the age of fourteen, alarmed by the licentiousness of the Roman youth, he fled to the desert mountains of Subiaco, forty miles from Rome, and was directed by the Holy Spirit into a deep, craggy, and almost inaccessible cave, since known as the Holy Grotto. He lived there for three years, unknown to anyone save a holy monk named Romanus, who clothed him with the monastic habit and brought him food.

He was eventually discovered, when, one Easter day, God advised a priest who lived about four miles from there, to take food to His servant, who was starving. The priest searched in the hills and finally found the solitary, and they took their meal together. Some shepherds also knew of his retreat, and soon the fame of this hermit’s sanctity began to spread. The demon persecuted him, but to no avail; when a temptation of the flesh assailed him, he rolled in a clump of thorns and nettles, and came out of it covered with blood but sound in spirit.

Disciples came to him, and under his direction, numerous monasteries were founded. The rigor of the rule he drew up, however, brought upon him the hatred of some of the monks, and one of them mixed poison with the Abbot’s drink. When the Saint made the sign of the cross on the poisoned bowl, it broke and fell in pieces to the ground.

Saint Benedict resurrected a boy whose father pleaded for that miracle, saying Give me back my son! He replied, Such miracles are not for us to work, but for the blessed apostles! Why will you lay upon me a burden which my weakness cannot bear? But finally, moved by compassion, he prostrated himself upon the body of the child, and prayed: Behold not, O Lord, my sins, but the faith of this man, and restore the soul which Thou hast taken away! And the child rose up, and walked to the waiting arms of his father. When a monk lost the iron head of his axe in a river, the Abbot told him to throw the handle in after it, and it rose from the river bed to resume its former place.

Six days before his death, Saint Benedict ordered his grave to be prepared, then fell ill of a fever. On the sixth day he asked to be carried to the chapel, and, having received the sacred Body and Blood of Christ, with hands uplifted and leaning on one of his disciples, he calmly expired in prayer, on the 21st of March, 543.

Reflection. The Saints never feared to undertake any work for God, however arduous, because distrusting self they relied for assistance and support wholly upon prayer.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 3

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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