Tag Archives: St Benedict

From whom do you take counsel?

The reading at Lauds this morning was from Sirach 8. You’ll recall that the Book of Sirach is also called the Liber Ecclesiasticus (that is, the “church book”) because of its wide use in catechetics and in the sacred Liturgy. There is nothing in Sirach that is not applicable to us today! Monks, nuns, priests and laity who do the Office of Readings will read the entire book in the course of 2-3 weeks. As a point of comparison, Sirach is one of those books that Protestants do not include in their version of the Bible; Catholics consider Sirach to be both inspired and canonical and worthy of prayer and meditation.

In general one may say that the author Sirach is concerned with interfacing of all parts of our lives: family, friendship, economy, politics, worship, good public order, etc. The Catholic term here would be communio, while the Protestants are inclined to use the concept of fellowship, but to be fair at today’s writing, Catholics use the word “fellowship” in the Liturgy and that is mistaken. For the Catholic, communio is not merely the horizontal relationship with sisters and brothers –mere humanitarianism– but first communion (relationship) with the Blessed Trinity and then communion with sister and brother. Communion with the Trinity and with neighbor leads to one’s greater freedom (think of Msgr Giussani’s work in Communion & Liberation movement). To take this idea one step further, there is no hard separation between communion with the Trinity and neighbor. Catholics hold fast to the both/and of reality: we are to live in communion with the Trinity, basing our life analogously on the inner life of the Trinity and serving our sister and brother. Saint Benedict in his Rule shows us this is the way to God. What struck me today was the question: To whom do we go for counsel? How do I live in a more perfect freedom with the Trinity and my neighbor? In what ways do I serve the Lord well? How have I looked with tenderness on my humanity, and that of others?

Certainly, I have not always been served well by the advice offered by those placed over me. Superiors, whether secular or religious, have not always been too attuned to the Divine Will through prayer, fasting and lectio that their own issues have been the source of counsel rather than the Will of God; I am amazed that I’ve survived as well as I have. In profound ways, I have to say, the people I was told to have confidence in turned out be frauds when it came to working with one’s humanity, discernment of Spirits, the spiritual life, interpersonal relationships, ecclesial politics, etc. After praying on what Sirach has to say today, I wonder if we as members of the Body of Christ have paid too little attention to the Wisdom literature of the Bible.

Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach writes:

Contend not with an influential man, lest you fall into his power. Quarrel not with a rich man, lest he pay out the price of your downfall; For gold has dazzled many, and perverts the character of princes. Dispute not with a man of railing speech, heap no wood upon his fire. Be not too familiar with an unruly man, lest he speak ill of your forebears. Shame not a repentant sinner; remember, we all are guilty. Insult no man when he is old, for some of us, too, will grow old. Rejoice not when a man dies; remember, we are all to die. Spurn not the discourse of the wise, but acquaint yourself with their proverbs; From them you will acquire the training to serve in the presence of princes. Reject not the tradition of old men which they have learned from their fathers; From it you will obtain the knowledge how to answer in time of need. Kindle not the coals of a sinner, lest you be consumed in his flaming fire. Let not the impious man intimidate you; it will set him in ambush against you. Lend not to one more powerful than yourself; and whatever you lend, count it as lost. Go not surety beyond your means; think any pledge a debt you must pay. Contend not at law with a judge, for he will settle it according to his whim. Travel not with a ruthless man, lest he weigh you down with calamity; For he will go his own way straight, and through his folly you will perish with him. Provoke no quarrel with a quick-tempered man, nor ride with him through the desert, For bloodshed is nothing to him; when there is no one to help you, he will destroy you. Take no counsel with a fool, for he can keep nothing to himself. Before a stranger do nothing that should be kept secret, for you know not what it will engender. Open your heart to no man, and banish not your happiness (Sirach 8).

Saint Benedict

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Come! Lift your hearts to God on high,

That we be joined in praise this day,

For God has called this blessed man

Who leads us in Christ’s narrow way.

From youth he sought to know God well,

Preferred, to all things else, Christ’s love

That, freed within the three-fold vow,

His heart be set on things above.

He founded, in his holy zeal,

A school of service of the Lord

Where all might leave self-seeking cares,

That God in all things be adored.

His sons and daughters he has formed

To run the way of God’s commands

Within the cloister and the world,

Through common life in many lands.

To men and women, monks and nuns,

Who strive within their rule to grow,

Give purity of heart; grant joy;

That in all thorns, Christ’s peace they know.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blessed,

With Benedict we sing your praise.

All glory be, until that time

We join the saints for endless days.


J. Michael Thompson

Copyright © 2009, World Library Publications


Being in God’s…according to Saint Benedict

In the days leading up to the feast of Saint Benedict (Jul 11) I thought I’d look at some reflections on his influence on us today. The Saint has set the stage for so much in the Church today, especially for the spiritual life, that we need to pay clear attention to what he has to say.

Living in the presence of God, according to Benedict, shapes
all realms of human life: prayer, work, interaction with creation, and
relationships with other people. “Fellowship,” that great slogan of
our time, was for Benedict no contradiction to a devout love of God. The social
dimension is always already religious, for in the brother as in the sister we
encounter Christ himself.

Faith in God is made concrete for Benedict in a
belief in the good core of the fellow human being. There faith is expressed in
a new way of being with one another. That, for Benedict, is the basis of true
humanity. It is not an uplifting ideal, but reality that confronts us again and
again in daily situations.

Thus Benedict says in the chapter on the monastic
counsel that the abbot is to call all the brothers to counsel because “the
Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” For Benedict, then, it
is clear that the Lord speaks to us through people, that he can speak to us
through anyone, even a younger person who may have less experience and

Anselm Grun, OSB, Benedict of Nursia: His Message For Today

Saint Benedict (and his 12 degrees of humility)

God our Father, You made Saint Benedict an outstanding guide
to teach men how to live in your service. Grant that be preferring your love to
everything else we may walk in the way of your commandments.

St Benedict a Bohemian artist.jpg

Famous for his work on the 12 degrees of humility, Saint Benedict proposes the following for those who want to advance in the spiritual life. The degrees of humility are given below.

The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always
have the fear of God before his eyes (cf Ps 35[36]:2), shunning all
forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that
he always consider in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for
their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And
whilst he guard himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed,
and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

The second degree of humility is, when a man love not his
own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires but by his deeds carried
out that word of the Lord which said: “I came not to do My own will but
the will of Him that sent Me” (Jn 6:38). It is likewise said:
“Self-will hath its punishment, but necessity win the crown.”

The third degree of humility is, that for the love of God a
man subject himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom
the Apostle said: “He became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8).

The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and
distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he
accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up, but
hold out, as the Scripture said: “He that shall persevere unto the end
shall be saved” (Mt 10:22). And again: “Let thy heart take courage,
and wait thou for the Lord” (Ps 26[27]:14).

The fifth degree of humility is, when one hides from his
Abbot none of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart or the evils committed
by him in secret, but humbly confesses them. Concerning this the Scripture
exhorts us, saying: “Reveal thy way to the Lord and trust in Him” (Ps
36[37]:5). And it said further: “Confess to the Lord, for He is good, for
His mercy endures forever” (Ps 105[106]:1; Ps 117[118]:1). And the Prophet
likewise said: “I have acknowledged my sin to Thee and my injustice I have
not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord;
and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sins” (Ps 31[32]:5).

The sixth degree of humility is, when a monk is content with
the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him holds
himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: “I am
brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I
am always with Thee” (Ps 72[73]:22-23).

The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his
tongue he declares, but also in his inmost soul believeth, that he is the
lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet:
“But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the
people” (Ps 21[22]:7).

The eighth degree of humility is, when a monk doeth nothing
but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of
his elders.

The ninth degree of humility is, when a monk withholds his
tongue from speaking, and keeping silence doth not speak until he is asked; for
the Scripture shows that “in a multitude of words there shall not want
sin” (Prov 10:19); and that “a man full of tongue is not established
in the earth” (Ps 139[140]:12).

The tenth degree of humility is, when a monk is not easily
moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: “The fool exalts his
voice in laughter” (Sir 21:23).

The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaks,
he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and
sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: “The
wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”

The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only
humble of heart, but always lets it appear also in his whole exterior to all
that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the
field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have
his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty
of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment
seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the
Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: “Lord, I am a sinner and
not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven” (Lk 18:13); and again with the
Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly” (Ps 37[38]:7-9; Ps

Christ is the answer, Pope reminds the Benedictines and all peoples

montecassino1.jpgIn speaking to the Benedictines at Montecassino, the Pope was speaking to all Benedictines, solemnly professed and oblates, and to the laity, in general. He proposes once again the person of Saint Benedict as a person who knew well that Christ is the answer to all things. The Pope’s homily at Vespers follows:

Almost at the end of my visit today, I am particularly pleased to pause in this sacred place, in this abbey, four times destroyed and rebuilt, the last time after the bombings of World War II, 65 years ago. “Succisa virescit” [in defeat we are strengthened; when cut down, this tree grows again]: the words of its new coat of arms represent well its history. Monte Cassino, just as the secular oak tree planted by St. Benedict, was “pruned” by the violence of war, but has risen more vigorous. More than once I also have had the opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of the monks, and in this abbey I spent many unforgettable hours of quiet and prayer. This evening we entered singing “Laudes Regiae” together to celebrate the Vespers of the Solemnity of the Ascension of Jesus. To each of you I express the joy of sharing this moment of prayer, greeting everyone with affection, grateful for the welcome that you have reserved for me and those who accompany me in this apostolic pilgrimage.

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In particular, I greet Abbot Dom Pietro Vittorelli, who has made himself the spokesman of your common sentiments. I extend my greetings to
the abbots, the abbesses, and to the Benedictine communities present here.

Today the liturgy invites us to contemplate the mystery of the Ascension of the Lord. In the brief reading taken from the first letter of Peter, we were urged to fix our gaze on our Redeemer, who died “once and for all for sins” in order to lead us back to God, at whose right hand he sits “after having ascended to heaven and having obtained sovereignty over the angels and the principalities and the powers” (cf. 1 Pt 3, 18.22). “Raised on high” and made invisible to the eyes of his disciples, Jesus has not however abandoned them, but was: in fact, “put to death in the body, but made to live in the spirit” (1 Pt 3:18). He is now present in a new way, inside the believers, and in him salvation is offered to every human being without distinction of people, language, or culture. The first letter of Peter contains specific references to the fundamental Christological events of the Christian faith. The Apostle’s intention is to highlight the universal scope of salvation in Christ. A similar desire we find in St. Paul, of whom we are celebrating the two thousandth anniversary of his birth, who to the community of Corinth, writes: “He (Christ) died for all, so that those who live, live no longer for themselves but for him, who has died and is risen for them.” (2 Cor 5, 15).

To live no longer for themselves but for Christ: this is what gives full meaning to the lives of those that let themselves be conquered by him. The human and spiritual journey of St. Benedict attests to this clearly, he who, leaving all things behind, dedicated himself to the faithful following of Jesus. Embodying in his own life the reality of the Gospel, he has become the founder of a vast movement of spiritual and cultural renaissance in the West. I would now like to refer to an extraordinary event of his life, which the biographer St. Gregory the Great relates, and with which you are certainly well acquainted. One could almost say that the holy patriarch was “lifted up” in an indescribable mystical experience. On the night of October 29 of the year 540 — reads the biography — and, facing the window, “with his eyes fixed on the stars he recollected himself in divine contemplation, the saint felt that his heart was inflamed … For him, the star filled firmament was like the embroidered curtain that revealed the Holy of Holies. At one point, he felt his soul felt itself carried to the other side of the veil, to contemplate the revealed face of him who dwells in inaccessible light” (cf. AI Schuster, History of Saint Benedict and his time, Ed Abbey Viboldone, Milan, 1965, p. 11 et seq.). Of course, similar to what happened to Paul after his heavenly rapture, St. Benedict, following this extraordinary spiritual experience, also found it necessary to start a new life. If the vision was transient, the effects were lasting, his very character — the biographers say — was changed, his appearance always remained calm and his behavior angelic, and even while he was living on earth, he understood that in his heart he was already in heaven.

St. Benedict received this gift of God not to satisfy his intellectual curiosity, but rather because the charism with which God had endowed him had the ability to reproduce in the monastery the very life of heaven and reestablish the harmony of creation through contemplation and work. Rightly, therefore, the Church venerates him as an “eminent teacher of the monastic life” and “doctor of spiritual wisdom in the love of prayer and work; shining guide of people in the light of the Gospel” who,”raised to heaven by a luminous road” teaches people of all ages to seek God and the eternal riches prepared by him (cf. Preface of the Holy in the monastery to the MR, 1980, 153).

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Yes, Benedict was a shining example of holiness and pointed the monks to Christ as their only great ideal; he was a master of civility, who proposed a balanced and adequate vision of the demands of God and of the final ends of man; he also always kept well in mind the needs and the reasons of the heart, in order to teach and inspire a genuine and constant brotherhood, so that in the complexity of social relationships the unity of spirit capable of always building and maintaining peace was never lost sight of. It is not by
chance that the word Pax [peace] is the word that welcomes pilgrims and visitors at the gates of the abbey, rebuilt after the terrible disaster of the Second World War, which stands as a silent reminder to reject all forms of violence in order to build peace: in families, within communities, between peoples and all of humanity. St. Benedict invites every person that climbs this mountain to seek peace and follow it: “inquire pacem et sequere eam” [seek peace and follow it.] (Ps. 33,14-15) (Rule, Prologue, 17).

By its example, monasteries have become, over the centuries, centers of fervent dialogue, encounter and beneficial union of diverse peoples, unified by the evangelical culture of peace. The monks have known how to teach by word and example the art of peace, implementing in a concrete way the three “ties” that Benedict identifies as necessary to maintain the unity of the Spirit among men: the cross, which is the very law of Christ, the book which is culture, and the plow, which indicates work, the lordship over matter and time. Thanks to the activity of the monastery, articulated in the three-fold daily commitments of prayer, study and work, entire populations of Europe have experienced a genuine redemption and a beneficial moral, spiritual and cultural development, learning in the spirit of continuity with the past, of concrete action for the common good, and of openness to God and the transcendent aspect of the world. We pray that Europe always exploit this wealth of principles and Christian ideals, which constitutes an immense cultural and spiritual wealth.


This is possible but only if the constant teaching of St.
Benedict is embraced, the “quaerere Deum,” to seek God, as the fundamental commitment of man. Human beings cannot achieve full self-realization or ever be truly happy without God. It is your special responsibility, dear monks, to be living examples of this interior and profound relationship with him, implementing without compromise the program that your founder summarized in the “nihil amori Christi praeponere” [put nothing before the love of Christ.] (Rule 4.21). In this holiness consists, a valid proposal for every Christian, more than ever in our time, in which the need to anchor life and history to solid spiritual principles is felt.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, your vocation is a timely as ever, and your mission as monks is indispensable.

From this place, where his mortal remains rest, the patron saint of Europe continues to urge everyone to continue his work of evangelization and human promotion. I encourage you in the first place, dear brethren, to remain faithful to the spirit of your origins and to be authentic interpreters of this program of social and spiritual rebirth. The Lord grants you this gift, through the intercession of your holy founder, of his holy sister St. Scholastica, and of the saints of your order. And may the heavenly Mother of the Lord, who today we invoke as “Help of Christians,” watch over you and protect this abbey and all your monasteries, as well as the diocesan community that lives around Monte Cassino. Amen!

Pope Benedict XVI
Homily at Vespers II
The Abbey of Monte Casino
May 24, 2009

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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