The Solemnity of St. Benedict

[Scripture Readings: Prov 2:1-9; Eph 4:1-6; Lk 22:14-20, 24-30]

Fr. AlbericOne morning, about three months ago, I was on a bus with thirty other monks and nuns from all over the world, taking a drive through the rolling green hills of central Italy. We had just left Rome and were on our way to Subiaco, the site of the first monastery founded by St. Benedict whose feast we celebrate today. We were about half way there when the bus suddenly turned off the highway, and we were told by our guide that we were stopping in this place because Benedict stopped here 1500 years ago on his way to Subiaco. It seems that for a time, Benedict served as superior for a community of monks who lived on the slopes of the ravine where the bus let us off. Standing there in the brilliant sunshine of a spring morning in Italy, we listened as our guide narrated to us the sad story of what actually happened in that ravine, so many centuries ago — probably the darkest moment of Benedict’s monastic career. Having agreed to serve as superior to the monks who had settled in that place, Benedict shortly found himself facing intense resistance to his authority, even hostility; hostility culminating in a hatred so violent, that the monks actually tried to kill him.

The details of what went wrong at the monastery of Vicovaro is something we’ll never know. We read in the life of St. Benedict, written by Gregory the Great, that Benedict did not want to serve as superior for those monks, whose entreaties he resisted for a long time.It seems he had an intuition they would be unwilling to lead the fervent monastic life he himself felt called to. But what is finally most striking in Gregory’s account is that, the monks of Vicovaro actually attempted to remove Benedict from office – by violence: they put poison in a cup, and offered it to him at a meal. It is monks resorting to violence that is the real surprise of the story.

St. BenedictBut doesn’t each and every act of violence by one human being against another always take us by surprise? We live at a time when terrorist reprisals are in the news every day. We are inundated with reports and images of violent murder. Does violence ever cease to be a surprise? Recently, thousands of people viewed a video tape on the Internet showing the decapitation of an American hostage by Iraqi terrorists; watching, it seems, with fresh fascination and amazement, one more act of violence of so many occurring around us. It is the nature of violence, it seems to me, to astonish us; to leave us stupefied and asking ourselves: “How could a human being do that to another human being?”

But today is a feast, a celebration, and we must trust the Lord and St. Benedict to give us today a gift that make our hearts joyful and give us hope in this world of ours so ravaged by violence. St. Benedict doesn’t give us an answer to the question of why human beings are violent. What he gives us is a vision of love overcoming hatred. We are not certain that Gregory’s story is strictly factual, but it is a story that reveals a deep truth if we pay close attention to the details of the story, and so there is a value in letting our imagination reconstruct the event precisely as Gregory relates it. Benedict, as depicted in the story was like us, completely vulnerable to acts of terrorism. He did not know his drink was poisoned. He had just sat down to take a simple meal at the end of a long monastic day when he discovered that his monks had attempted to kill him. He recognized in the same moment that a miracle had occurred by which his life had been spared, and it is in Gregory’s description of this miracle that our hearts find cause for celebration.

The Cup of Blessing As Gregory relates it, Benedict, seating himself to begin the meal, was handed the poisoned cup by one of the monks. Quite oblivious of the danger he was in at that moment, the holy man behaved as he would at any other meal: He extended his hand and pronounced over the cup—a blessing. Benedict had not yet perceived any violence, much less denounced it or confronted the guilty parties. With a humble and simple trust, he reached out his hand and blessed the cup—as a matter of fact, very probably, said a prayer of thanksgiving; words to the effect: “Oh God who provide us with all good things, I thank you for this food—and for this cup.” Then, extending his hand over the cup, made the sign of the cross. In that instant, according to Gregory, the miracle happened, and here perhaps is the real lesson of the story. Benedict blessed that poison cup with the sign of the cross of Christ; the cross by which a love sterner than death confronted human violence once and for all with a surprise greater than itself: the revelation that a Father loves us whose mercy is capable of embracing human beings in the depths of their viciousness and stupidity, and claiming them as his beloved children. It was with this sign, Gregory tells us; with the appearance of the sign of the cross of Christ made over it that that cup so potent with the power of death; that cup of violence that so mesmerizes even to this day, miraculously exploded; shattered, Gregory declares triumphantly; shattered before the eyes of everyone present into a thousand pieces!

When the cup was gone, and all the evil contained in it quite vanquished. We can imagine those vengeful monks standing speechless, accused and judged by having to look into the eyes the holy man seated before them who told them with deep sadness borne of love that, in light of what had happened, he would have to leave their company at once. Today, we remember Benedict as one of the church’s greatest saints. The identities of the monks who tried to kill him we do not remember. They have vanished into history. But their vanishing does not permit us to hate them. Psalm 36 says: “The enemies of the Lord vanish, like the beauty of the meadows.” It does not say: “like sewage down a drain pipe”, or “like filth from a white garment”. It says “The enemies of the Lord vanish—like the beauty of the meadows.” Brothers and sisters, the divinely inspired dignity, the beauty of God’s image in our enemies, will not permit us to despise them, even when they try to kill us. Benedict’s gift to us today is the hope that ultimately, by God’s intervention, violence will be overcome by love. The cause of our rejoicing and celebrating this morning is the vision of a cup filled with the poison of human violence exploding and from behind it emerging the face of a heavenly Father, filled with enduring love.

The Solemnity of St. Benedict

[Scripture Readings: Prov 2:1-9; Eph 4:1-6; Lk 22:14-20, 24-30]

Fr. Brendan. . . who is the greater: The one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely. Yet here am I among you as one who serves,Lk 22:27.

It is easy to see how this passage from today’s Gospel fits St. Benedict. If this part of Luke’s Gospel, the question about who is the greater, were the entire story we would easily understand the application to St. Benedict. But the first section of today’s Gospel is the institution narrative. This leads to the question: what is the connection between the institution narrative and St. Benedict?

Unlike Matthew and Mark who place Jesus’ teaching about service in different places in their Gospels, Luke connects it with the Eucharist. Why? Scholars say he did this to relate it to controversies in the early Eucharistic assemblies. Right from the beginning there were problems. Paul had to correct the Corinthians from over-indulging at the Eucharistic meal.

The Hellenists complained their widows were neglected at the daily distribution of food, and James complained that in the assembly distinctions were made on the basis of wealth.

To show the proper order of things, Luke gives his teaching on service right after the institution narrative. Jesus is among us as one who serves. Not as one who sits at table waiting to be served.

St. BenedictThe Rule of St. Benedict has come down to us as a practical way to live out the Gospel. St. Benedict was quick to take this key teaching of Jesus and weave it throughout his Rule for monks. He even says by writing it he hopes to establish a school for the Lord’s service. He begins chapter 35 on the community meals with the words, “The brothers should serve one another” a few lines later he reiterates it “. . . serve one another in love.” Can you think of a better way to sum up community life? Let the brothers serve one another in love.

St. Benedict reminds us often that in serving one another we are serving Christ. This is especially true of certain groups. “Care of the sick,” he says “must rank above and before all else, so that they may truly be served as Christ,Ch. 36:1. Guests are to be received as Christ. Ch. 53:1Monks are to respect each other out of love for Christ,Ch. 72.

Benedict has a very clear vision about community life. It is a school where we learn how to live the Gospel teachings, it is a house of God where we learn how to live as Christ lived.

We are still left with the question however. What is the purpose of including the institution narrative in today’s Gospel? I think it is there because the Eucharist is the ultimate sharing of life. If community life is serving one another in love, then the Eucharist is the source of the love and service. Jesus took the cup and said, “Take this and share it among you.” He took the bread and gave it to them and said, “This is my body given for you.

Jesus is serving this last meal to his disciples-he is instituting a sacramental meal that continues to this day. He gives himself, shares Himself, pours out his life for us. Luke is telling us we cannot separate this sacramental meal from the way we live our life. It would be a terrible betrayal if we did not live out in practice what we celebrate in the Eucharist.

The Eucharist is our nourishment, the food that strengthens us on our journey of service. It is a gift not to be kept hidden away but shared. “This is my body given for you” sums up the meaning of any Christian community.

Thanks to Hermanoleon Clipart.

The Solemnity of St. Benedict

[Scripture Readings: Prov 2:1-9; Eph 4:1-6; Lk 22:14-20, 24-30]

Fr. Daniel“The glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind shall see the salvation of our God,” (Is 40:5). St. Benedict wrote his Rule fifteen hundred years ago. He did not leave a biography. St. Gregory the Great offered this explanation: “The Rule is the story of St. Benedict’s life…”

We are living in 2002 but the spirit of St. Benedict is alive today as it was then. The great spread of the Benedictines is proof of that. The rule of St. Benedict was written with one object in mind: The furthering of the mission of Jesus Christ, “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36). It is this kingdom that St. Benedict had in mind and which all of his followers have been promoting down the years.

Little known is the spread of vocations to the Benedictine life. For example, In Bogata, Columbia, the Benedictine monastery after many years was not large enough to accommodate new vocations. Recently a new monastery was built and occupied. Now the monks have been warned not to go out of the monastery except for emergencies. It is a war-torn area and the shootings and killings are many. It reminds one of our monastery of Atlas in Algeria.

St. BenedictWe Cistercians and associates live according to the Rule of St. Benedict. We live as farmers and as casket makers, the purpose of which is sustenance, but the object of our life is the furthering of the kingdom of God, to reap the harvest of souls for Christ. As with all Benedictines our lives are lived for the greatest part unpublicized. However, the influence of our manner of living is far reaching, to the ends of the earth we may readily say, and immeasurable. Who can measure the number of souls that have been touched and saved by St. Benedict’s Rule and his monks since the writing thereof?

The Lord asks only this of us: to act justly, to love tenderly, to walk humbly with the Lord, to which St. Benedict responded positively.

“And the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all mankind shall see the salvation of our God,” if we are true to the spirit of St. Benedict, inspired as he was by the Lord, and fortified by his Eucharistic King as we are this morning.

Thanks to Hermanoleon Clipart.