LIFE OF SAINT BENEDICT
Young Benedict was a student in Rome. The loose living and the too-natural mentality of his companions disgusted him. It was as if they had never even heard of Christ and His law of love. It was clear for him then. Rome, the great city where so many people spent their days trying to be rich and powerful, was not to his liking. He longed for the quiet of the country-side, some small cave where he could spend his days in prayer. But Cyrilla, his governess, wanted to come with him, and tried to discourage him from his "nonsense".
One day Benedict and Cyrilla left Rome and headed eastward into the hill country. But after just a day's walking, Benedict could see clearly that Cyrilla was having difficulty. He knew this could not go on. Benedict decided to leave her as soon as they could find a friendly village where she could stay. He knew that she would understand. The burning call in his heart could not be stilled or put off any longer.
They soon found a village called Enfida where Cyrilla found new friends. Benedict now felt that it was time to follow the urging of his heart. One night he left a note for his governess and slipped off alone into the rugged country side.
He walked and walked until finally he reached a rocky steep-sloped terrain called Subiaco. Suddenly, a deep silent valley was before him. There would be no people there; no one would want to live in such desolation except someone like Benedict who sought only God. He saw a cave and slowly approached it with a singing heart. "May You be praised, my Lord" he exclaimed." Now and forever! A voice replied.
Benedict was startled. He looked around to locate the speaker. A few feet away stood an old monk. Benedict told him of his desire to live in solitude. The monk listened and afterwards provided the youth with the rough leather garments that hermits use. Nothing could have suited Benedict better. Poverty and privation, cold and discomfort, solitude and prayer-through these he planned to conquer himself and seek God.
One would think that, being tucked away from nearly all contact with humanity, Benedict would find it easy to be absorbed in God alone. But Benedict was not totally tranquil. While we are on earth, we must struggle in order to attain the reward.
The devil tempted him in many ways. Once he brought before the imagination of Benedict a violent temptation of the flesh. It was so violent that Benedict was almost overcome and thought of leaving his solitude. However, divine grace intervened. He saw a thick plant with thorns and cast himself into it until his whole body was lacerated. Although his whole body was in pain, he was able to cure his soul. Prayer and penance were his daily bread. Benedict gradually learned how to conquer his weak points.
The people nearby soon learned about the holy hermit and many came to him to seek his advice. Little did Benedict know that his growing fame would lead him to another kind of life, the one the Lord had truly destined for him.
Early one morning, just as the mists were beginning to disappear from the slopes of Subiaco, a group of men struggled up the rugged valley in the direction of Benedict's cave. They were dressed as monks, but they seemed to be unfamiliar with bodily discipline.
They came from Vicovaro, a hilltop between Tivoli and Subiaco, where they had built a rudimentary sort of abbey. They had no rule since no one yet at that time had formulated monastic rules except St. Basil who was in the distant East. The tenor of life in the community often depended on the leader. Now, this group of men came to persuade Benedict to be their abbot, because their former abbot had recently died.
At first Benedict refused, for he knew that they could not accept his ways. "My ways are yours. Prayer and work is my rule of life. I do not think that you would agree."
But they persisted, and finally Benedict went with them. It was soon evident that the severe monastic discipline that Benedict instituted did not suit their lax habits, and in order to get rid of him the monks decided to poison him. They could not send him away because they had invited him to come with them. The best way they could think of to do away with him was to poison his wine. But when Benedict made the sign of the cross over the cup, as was his habit, it broke as if a stone had fallen on it.
"God forgive you, brothers," Benedict said serenely. "Why have you plotted this wicked thing against me? Did I not tell you beforehand that my ways would not agree with yours? Go and find an abbot to your taste, for after what you have done you can no longer keep me with you." Then he bade them farewell and returned to Subiaco.
But Benedict did not stay alone for very long-Sanctity is like a magnet which attracts. Others who were also eager to dedicate themselves to the service of God came to the young hermit to learn from him his rule of life. Benedict accepted them kindly as brothers and formed them into communities of monks. Benedict then began to establish monasteries. He and his followers set out for a little town called Casino and there with much prayer and work, Benedict and his monks began building the great church and monastery which would later be known the world over as Monte Cassino. Aside from this, twelve other monasteries were established.
At Monte Cassino, Benedict put his way of life in writing. This rule was to nurture and form thousands of spiritual sons and daughters, and give to its author an undying title of Patriarch of Western Monasticism. "Prayer and work" is the summary of his rule and the motto of Benedictines. Benedict had lit a fire that would never be put out. During the Dark Ages, the Benedictine monasteries kept and preserved the elements of Christian civilization in the midst of chaos. And it was the same Order which helped rebuild and re-civilize the West in the aftermath of death and destruction.
What has Benedict's life to do with contemporary man? He lived apart from the world but his concerns were for the people who were in the world. His every life was a shining example of a truly Christian life. He had the sentiments of Christ. He admonished his monks to see Christ in everyone and in everything. He had a special predilection for the sick in the poor. "Before all things and above all things care must be taken of the sick and the hungry so that they may be served in every need as Christ Himself." Christ is present in the poor, the oppressed, the hungry and the suffering. "I was sick and you visited me, I was hungry and you gave me bread, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was a stranger and you took me in."
Let each of us learn from him. We too can practice Christ's law of love, which means service, especially to those who cannot serve us in return. The care and solicitude we show to our fellowmen is concern for Christ Himself.
Taken from: Lives of Saints Edited by: Sr. Anna Bagading, FSC