Tag Archives: St Benedict

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 Benedict

The Rule of Saint Benedict
Who can measure the extraordinary influence that these few pages have exercised during fourteen centuries on the general education of the Western world? St. Benedict, however, only thought of God; he has thought only of souls desirous of ascending to God; he only wanted, in the quiet simplicity of his faith, to establish a school of divine service: Dominici schola servitii. It is precisely because of this jealous search for the unique necessity that God has blessed the Rule of the monks with a singular grace of fruitfulness, and that Saint Benedict has taken rank in the lineage of the great patriarchs.

Dom Paul Delatte, Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, Introduction, p. II.

St Benedict

Friends, a blessed Feast of St. Benedict!

“Help me, great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to run in the sweetness of His loving will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.”

Saint John Paul II expressed his sincere hope: “May every Benedictine community present itself with a well-defined identity, like a “city on a hill”, distinct from the surrounding world, but open and welcoming to the poor, to pilgrims and to all who are searching for a life of greater fidelity to the Gospel!”

Blessed John Henry Newman tells us: “We are told to be like little children; and where shall we find a more striking instance than is here afforded us of that union of simplicity and reverence, that clear perception of the unseen, yet recognition of the mysterious, which is the characteristic of the first years of human existence? To the monk heaven was next door; he formed no plans, he had no cares; the ravens of his father Benedict were ever at his side. He “went forth” in his youth “to his work and to his labour” until the evening of life; if he lived a day longer, he did a day’s work more; whether he lived many days or few, he laboured on to the end of them. He had no wish to see further in advance of his journey than where he was to make his next stage. He ploughed and sowed, he prayed, he meditated, he studied, he wrote, he taught, and then he died and went to heaven. He made his way into the labyrinthine forest, and he cleared just so much of space as his dwelling required, suffering the high solemn trees and the deep pathless thicket to close him in.
(‘The Mission of St Benedict’, The Atlantis, 1858)

St Benedict, the transitus

 

 

By your ascetic labors, God-bearing Benedict, / you were proven to be true to your name. / For you were the son of benediction, / and became a rule and model for all who emulate your life and cry: / “Glory to Him who gave you strength! / Glory to Him who granted you a crown! / Glory to Him who through you grants healing to all!” (Byzantine Troparion)

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)

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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