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Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saint Benedict

Founder of Western Monasticism
Feast Day: July 11

Life Entrusted to God

Benedict was born in Nursia about the year 480. He was very young when he was sent to Rome to receive the first part of his education. While there, he was shocked at the decadence he observed from the Roman youth and in order to be freed from the snares of it, Benedict left the city. Up among the hills he found a place known as Sublacum. It was here that he met Romanus, a monk from a neighboring monastery who gave him the monastic habit, and led him to a deep narrow cave, almost inaccessible to men. In this cavern, now called the Holy Grotto, Bennet or Benedict lived as a hermit. Unknown to all but his friend Romanus, who each day saved for him a part of his own ration of bread and on a basket, let it down a rope with a bell tied around it to give him notice. Benedict was about fourteen or fifteen years old at that time. He passed the next three years in this manner, ardent to know the ways of the Lord. Until one Easter Sunday, a certain pious priest in that country heard a voice which said: "You are preparing for yourself a banquet, while my servant at Sublacum is distressed with hunger." The priest immediately set out in search of the hermit.

Founder of a New Order

Word of his holiness had spread abroad and inspired several to forsake the world. In one instance, some nearby monks, after the death of their abbot, ask for his leadership. He was unwilling to take upon him that charge and declined in the spirit of sincere humility, assuring the monks that their ways and his would not agree. They insisted, but his warning proved true and he returned to his solitude.

The next set of followers was more sincere and at last he found himself in a position to initiate the great work for which God had been preparing for him - that is to establish a single religious order in the West. This was the idea that had slowly been taking root during his years of solitude. “To bring together those who wished to share the monastic life, both men of the world who yearned to escape material concerns and the monks who had been living in solitude or in widely scattered communities, to make of them one flock, binding them by fraternal bonds, under one observance, in the permanent worship of God.”

Benedict set up twelve monasteries where monks lived in separate communities of twelve and became the founder of the order of Benedictine monks.

Progressing along God’s Pathways

Benedict extended his kindness to the people of the countryside, curing the sick and giving alms and food to the poor.
It was told, that when Campania suffered from a famine, he gave away all the provisions stored in the abbey, leaving with them only five loaves. The monks where dismayed, but he assured them, "You have not enough today, but tomorrow you will have too much." Indeed, the next morning a large donation of flour was left at the monastery gate.

About the year 528, he retired to Monte Cassino, a place destroyed by the Goths. The inhabitants there, left without a priest, was falling back into paganism and people would offer sacrifices on Apollo’s temple. After a preliminary 40 day fast, Benedict set to work by preaching to the people and winning them back to the faith. With the help of these converts, Benedict broke the statue of Apollo, overthrew the altar, and cut down the sacred grove. He built two chapels on the mountain; one dedicated to St. Martin, the other to St. John the Baptist. It was here that he founded the monastery that became the roots of the Church's monastic system. It was here too that he composed his 'Regula Monachorum’.

His sister, Saint Scholastica, settled nearby to live a religious life.


*St. Benedict's desert experience stripped him of his human ways and transformed them into divine ways.

The desert experience or “total abandonment” that St. Benedict did to be alone with God tore down the obstacles that stood in the way to perfect charity towards God and towards others. By entrusting himself to the Father, Benedict became open to the indwelling of the Spirit. And formed by the Holy Spirit's values, Benedict came to see reality with God's eyes and his attitude toward the world is transformed.

Our inordinate passions, bad habits, egotistical love, self-destructing desires, pleasures etc occupy our hearts and yet still leave us wanting. We need to give up all these - our little pleasures, selfishness and dependencies… and be emptied in order to be filled.

The desert tests us if our joy comes from God or from the trivial delights of the world.

We need not go to the physical desert to experience this. Our openness to God and acceptance of His will in our lives, our daily carrying of the Cross (sufferings, trials, daily irritations, tribulations, struggles, our experience of loneliness, depression…), our attempts to love Him with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and our efforts to become a better person and to love others as we should is our “desert” experience.

The spiritual desert experience is a search for love that has always been there. As we empty ourselves we are letting that love - the overwhelming love of God - to transform us.


“Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”

* Put God first in your life and He will sure to lead you where you should go.

Please feel free to share your reflections/insights/inputs in the comment box below. Thank you and God bless.

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