Today is the Feast of St. Benedict. He was born around 480 AD and died in the year 547 AD.
The Catholic Church, as well as all the older Christian Churches, as well as the Anglican Church, hold him in high regard.
He is one of the main founders of Monasticism in Western Europe.
He wrote the now famous ‘Rule of St. Benedict’.
It is a wise and very balanced, yet prophetic rule for monks. This rule had a great influence, not only an monks and nuns of the Benedictine Order but also in the wider Church.
In his rule he states, among other things, that the Abbot (or Abbess) (the leaders of the community) must be like a wise father (or mother). They must give hope to those who are eager to be forward thinking in the Spirit and Christian life. They must also make sure not to overwhelm those who are fearful and weak, to give them hope.
Very balanced advice for all men and women who are in leadership.
Benedict lived at time when the Western Roman Empire had collapsed and many tribes of ‘barbarians’ were settling in Europe. For many this had to be a cataclysmic experience. The world as they had known it had collapsed. It was an age of violence and war, with a breakdown of the central authority which had been one of the strengths of the Roman Empire. Life was cheap, and war was frequent and lawlessness was widespread.
The Monastic movement started by Benedict spread throughout Europe. Monasteries became islands of learning, study, the pursuit of wisdom and, of course, Christian faith.
The Monks had a love of learning, and the love of God. Most people of the time could not read or write, even kings and other leaders of society. The Monks were like a light in darkness when it came to education and learning.
The Monasteries surrounded by the pagan ‘barbarians’ became also great sources of Christian missionary activity. Bit by bit they Christianised Europe. It was a Church model that worked in this time.
Monastic life still has value today. There are various models of monasticism in the Church. They all contribute to a wealth of Christian spirituality.
Meditation, reflection, contemplation, and so many forms of spirituality are part of our Christian tradition. So many are not aware of the very central and important part these play in Christian spirituality. Some look for spirituality in other places, not realising how rich is the Christian tradition in wholesome spirituality. Of course, we can also continue to learn from other traditions. Authentic Christian spirituality, while always being centred on Jesus, is ready to learn from what is truly good in other traditions.
The monastic movement of Benedict responded to needs in his time. We need to listen to the Holy as we discover and discern what God is saying to us as Church today.
There is a beautiful ending to the life of St. Benedict. He had a twin sister. We now know her as St. Scholastica. They were not only siblings but best friends. Scholastica is a very important person to the women’s section of the Order, the Benedictine nuns
When Benedict knew that he was dying, he went to this sister’s grave and had part of the grave dug. He wanted to be buried with her when he died.
While deeply spiritual Benedict always remained down to earth. He was a truly human saint and encouraged others to be the same.