Monday, July 10, 2017

ST. BENEDICT


Homily for July 11th, 2017: St. Benedict.

St. Benedict, whom the Church celebrates today, was born in Norcia, some 70 miles north of Rome, probably around 480. His Catholic parents gave him a religious upbringing, sending him to Rome for studies as a teenager. Benedict reacted negatively to the worldliness of Rome. Convinced that for his soul’s health he should become a monk, he left Rome and journeyed east into the mountains of central Italy, where he took up residence in a cave, as a hermit. In time some of the pious nobility in Rome began to visit Benedict and to offer him their sons to rear them for almighty God. This enabled Benedict to form 12 monastic communities all under Benedict’s general oversight

          By age 50 Benedict, confident that his monks could remain faithful to their calling without him, journeyed south to Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples, where he founded the monastic community which still exists today, and wrote what he himself calls his “little Rule for beginners.”  He died there in 547 or shortly thereafter, probably in his late sixties.

          “We are going to establish a school for the service of the Lord,” Benedict writes in the Rule’s prologue. “In founding it we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome.” Benedict makes it clear that his Rule is addressed to all – to the average person without any special gifts – and not just to spiritual athletes.  “As we advance in the religious life and in faith,” Benedict writes in his Rule, “our hearts expand and we run the way of God’s commandments with unspeakable sweetness of love” – words which clearly reflect Benedict’s own experience. 

          All over the world today men, and women as well, are still living according to Benedict’s Rule, more than thirty of them here in St. Louis. One of them, a Trappist monk at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, helped me across the threshold of the Catholic Church at Easter 1960. He died there in 2006 at the age of 97. It was a lifetime of faithful observance of Benedict’s “little rule for beginners” which enabled him to write the beautiful words with which I close:

            “To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances. To seek him, the greatest human adventure. To find him, the highest human achievement.”