‘Prefer Absolutely Nothing to the Love of Christ’ – St Benedict
July 11th is the Feast day of St Benedict. The Church’s Kalendar describes him as the Father of Western Monasticism, and Patron of Europe. Benedict was born around 480 in what is now central Italy. As a young man he was sent to study in Rome, but seeking greater meaning in his life, he withdrew to live as a hermit at Subiaco. He quickly attracted disciples and established a number of communities. Around the year 525, after some disagreement, and surviving an attempt to poison him, (which puts our own disagreements as Christians into some perspective!), he moved to Monte Cassino with a band of loyal monks, dying there in about the year 550. Monte Cassino itself was to become the site of a very destructive battle during the Second World War.
Benedict wrote a Rule for his Monks, based on his own experience of ordinary, fallible human beings striving to live out the gospel. He would be amazed to know that his Rule, that he describes as a ‘Simple Rule for Beginners’, has influenced countless numbers throughout the Christian centuries, and continues to do so today, simply because it is so helpful. Benedictine Monks and Nuns, Oblates and Associates, who try to live out something of the Monastic way in their own homes, lives and families, ordinary Christians and even business leaders and politicians, have found solid guidance for living in the Rule of St Benedict.
Benedict is a master of keeping things in balance, of knowing that there is a need for Prayer, Work and Rest in every Life. He teaches the value of silence and simplicity, of not being afraid to confess weakness, and of serving others rather than always seeking to gratify your own personal desires. We are to listen to God with the ‘Ear of the Heart’, a lovely phrase, reminding us that the spiritual dimension of life is as real and as significant as all that we touch, taste and see.
Summer days are upon us, and whether you are planning a Holiday or not, I hope there is time for rest and renewal for each one of us. Time perhaps to pause and take stock, to consider the priorities in our lives, and to consider, like Benedict and the Rule, whether or not we are giving sufficient time to God, to listening with the ear of the heart, to scripture and to prayer. Benedict himself reminds us in this prayer not to try and travel too quickly along life’s way, but to look around and enjoy the journey:
Gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you,
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the
Spirit of Jesus Christ our Lord,
Holy Benedict, Father of Monks, Patron of Europe, pray for us!