We celebrated the feast of St. Benedict this past Tuesday. St. Benedict is part of the very warp and woof of Western culture and civilization. Pope Benedict said that “with his life and work, St. Benedict exercised a fundamental influence on the development of European civilization and culture and helped Europe to emerge from the dark night of history that followed the fall of the Roman empire.”
We all know his story. He and his sister Scholastica were born in the small town of Norcia in Umbria in about 480 A.D. He went to Rome as a young man and became disgusted with the corruption he saw all around him, and fled to the mountains and lived in a cave for three years in prayer and solitude. He emerged from that experience as a radically changed man and after encountering two groups of monks who had originally asked him to be their abbot and actually tried to poison him, he founded twelve monasteries in the region of Subiaco and then founded the most famous of all Western monasteries, Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples.
He is the author of the Rule of St. Benedict, a “manual” for those who want to live a life centered on Christ within a monastic community and how that monastery should be administered. His Rule is characterized by balance, moderation and reasonableness. This is why most Religious communities in the Middle Ages adopted Benedict’s Rule, as such became one of the most influential documents of the Church.
We must be grateful to those many monasteries under the Rule of St. Benedict who not only produced chant, commentaries on scripture, and great works of theology, but who also copied the works of authors from Ancient Greece and Rome. Those great works would have been lost forever without the work and labor of the monks.
We ask the intercession of St. Benedict in these troubled times in the Church, and especially for the revival of the monastic orders, that they may today be those lights on the hill in a time of increasing darkness. We can do something concrete today by sending our financial support to the Benedictine monks in Norcia, the birthplace of St. Benedict. In doing so we not only help them recover from the earthquake that destroyed their basilica and monastery. But we also support their efforts to recover that Catholic Tradition that is the bedrock of Christian civilization.
May each of us adopt the basic motto of Benedictine monasticism: “Ora et labora”, “pray and work”. Quite a good way to live the truly Christian life.
Fr. Richard G. Cipolla