By: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans
In today’s first reading, Hosea chastises the Israelites because, in their prosperity, they abandoned God for pagan idols. The “altars” in the reading refer to pagan altars and the “pillars” are the sacred poles that were associated with the worship of Asherah, the goddess of fertility. The paganism that Hosea describes mirrors the environment that St. Benedict was born into in 480 A.D. Today is the memorial of St. Benedict, known as the father of Western Christian monasticism.
In the early Middle Ages(5th -10th Century A.D.), pagans included the Anglo-Saxons and the Franks, and even worse, in a way, were the heretic Arian Visigoths, Ostrogoths, and Vandals. In most cases the barbarian pagans had not been given the opportunity to turn away from the Church. They had an ignorance of it, a clean slate, so to speak. Conversely, the heretics had been exposed to the truth and accepted, instead, a corrupted version of it.
When Benedict was born, in short, Western Europe was a mess. The aforementioned barbarians were everywhere, and as a result, trade was disrupted, economies crumbled, cities dwindled, populations declined, and art and books started to disappear. So, how did it hold on? Because of St. Benedict, who inspired the Church to take the place of overthrown governments and restore order.
But How did St. Benedict do this? Not by himself. He planted the seed, also known as his Rule of St. Benedict. it asked for poverty, obedience, and chastity from its monks living the monastic life. One of them was St. Gregory, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Let’s first start at the beginning.
Benedict was born into a noble Roman family in Italy and had the opportunity to continue his life in such a way. But, after being dissatisfied with the licentious lives of his companions in Rome, not to mention the pagans and heretics infesting the world, Benedict made his way to a mountainous desert forty miles from Rome.
It was there he met a monk named Romanus. He gave Benedict the habit, gave him instructions, and introduced him to the cave Benedict would live in for the next three years. Benedict sought to live in the austerity of the ancient fathers of the desert, one of whom was St. Anthony. One day Benedict experienced a horrible temptation to leave his cave and seek out an attractive woman he had known in Rome.
He famously responded by throwing himself in nearby thorny briers, rolling around in them until he was bloody and his pain had extinguished the flame of his concupiscence. Benedict matured inside the cave, but as his piety grew, and word of his miracles spread, he realized he would not be safe from the envy and malice engendered by his strict rule of life. He would need to move from the cave and embrace fraternity among other monks in a monastery of his founding. This became Monte Cassino, where Benedict performed his greatest miracle and cemented his reputation as a disciple of Jesus.
In the Gospel reading today we see that Jesus gave his apostles and disciples authority to cure illness and to even raise the dead.
One day, a peasant brought his dead son to the doors of Monte Cassino and asked for Benedict. He came and the man begged him to raise him from the dead. Benedict said, “This is not a work for us, friend. This belongs to the holy apostles.” The man persisted, and Benedict soon relented, kneeling in front of the boy, extending his hands over him, and praying to Heaven: “Lord, look not upon my sins, but on the faith of this man, and restore to the body the soul thou hast taken away from it.” The boy’s body trembled and was immediately restored to full life and health. And so we see that Benedict was a true apostle of Jesus.
As we have seen, the power to heal the sick came not from Benedict but from Christ himself. We are not called to raise the dead like Benedict, but our Catechism says that Jesus calls us to heal the sick by taking care of them, to heal them through intercessory prayer, and to heal them through the sacraments, most especially the anointing of the sick and the Eucharist. St. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10:30, even says that the Eucharist is joined to bodily health.
Before Benedict’s bodily health deteriorated he personally founded twelve communities of monks in Italy, but his more everlasting, main achievement is his aforementioned Rule of St. Benedict. Benedict’s rules dealt with worship, duties of the monks, discipline, faults, and penalties, along with miscellaneous prescriptions. Most religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages adopted it, mainly because St. Gregory, or Gregory The Great, later Pope Gregory, chose it. He began as a Benedictine monk who lived at Monte Cassino.
Because of St. Benedict’s moral code and focus on holy work, especially that of monks who copied the classics of literature, St. Gregory was able to keep Western Europe alive.
Today there are 253 Benedictine monasteries in the world and 7,400 Benedictine monks.
St. Joseph’s Abbey in St. Benedict, LA, on the Northshore, is a Benedictine Abbey that oversees the seminary college there.
Sources for this article: The High History of St. Benedict and His Monks by a monk of Douai Abbey
Monks of the West by The Count De Montalembert
About the Author: Jason Songe, Seminarian, Archdiocese of New Orleans
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