Posted by: fvbcdm | July 11, 2014

Feast of Saint Benedict (11 July 2014)

Today is another red-letter day for all Christians, but especially for those of us in religious life. It is the feast of Saint Benedict, one of the patrons of Europe, whose name Cardinal Ratzinger chose upon his election to the supreme pontificate.

The reason for Saint Benedict’s prominence and importance in the history of the Church is that he is the father of all religious life in the west. For the first three centuries of the Church, it was persecuted by the Roman Empire, and had to live in hiding, without revealing openly its existence. The Emperor Constantine in the year 313 allowed the Church to operate openly, and by the end of that century it had become the official religion of the empire. That gave the Church about a century in which to flourish and consolidate and organize itself without the harassment of a hostile government. Then began the invasions of the Barbarians, when more or less savage tribes from the north and east began to pour into Europe and plunder and destroy all that they found.

In the midst of this chaos, a young Catholic man of Rome felt the call to go off into solitude to devote himself to the contemplative religious life. His name was Benedict, which means “blessed.” He went first to a very mountainous, inaccessible area east of Rome called Subiaco. Then, as followers gathered around him, he moved to a more favorable location in the open country on the road south to Naples. There, at the top of a mountain called Monte Cassino, he build a monastery and wrote his famous Rule. I would venture to say that no document in the history of the Church has been more influential, apart from Scripture itself, than the Rule of Saint Benedict. The reason is that for six hundred years after the composition of that Rule, the Benedictine Order was the only religious institute within the Church. So every man or woman who wished to consecrate him- or herself to the service of God in religious life had no choice but to become a Benedictine.  Monasteries of Benedictine monks and nuns proliferated very extensively throughout Europe. Many of the popes and bishops of those centuries were Benedictine monks; most of the religious education that existed was done by Benedictines. The nuns and monks in their scriptoria, or writing-rooms, laboriously copied the works of the past, both religious and secular, thus giving to posterity the great libraries of old. The monasteries were influential in civic life, since around nearly every monastery a town or city sprang up, with the life of the abbey as an example of Christian civilization. The monks brought the great woolen industry to Great Britain; the art of book-binding, agriculture, architecture, the preservation of the Latin language. And of course, most of the beers and brandies and liqueurs and cheeses now famous were first formulated by the monks.

Those of us who belong to religious institutes founded later, like the Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, Ursulines, Daughters of Charity, etc., recognize our great debt of gratitude to Saint Benedict and the world of religious life that he brought into being. All other religious rules were modeled upon the Rule of Saint Benedict. So today we celebrate the feast of this great man, this leader in the Christianity of the western Church and world. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This Message was composed some years ago.

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