St Benedict – gaudeamus!

We have sung first Vespers so it is liturgically, if not quite so by the secular calendar, the Solemnity of the Transitus (Passing) of St Benedict. In our community it is celebrated with pontifical liturgy and a “hog”, or festal lunch of ample proportions. Normally the abbot pontificates at the Mass, but this year the Apostolic Nuncio to Great Britain, Archbishop Antonio Mennini, will pontificate at Solemn Mass.

St Benedict lived in troubled times, in and around Rome, roughly from the years 480 to 547. Pope Paul VI named him principal patron of Europe in 1964. He is patron also of the oldest Order in the Church, an Order within which there are many branches, both of men and women, all of whom look to St Benedict as their patron, guide, teacher and heavenly abbot.

To mark our founder’s feast day please read the following words of Pope Benedict XVI, excerpted from his General Audience of 9 April 2008 in Rome:

…the Saint’s work and particularly hisRule were to prove heralds of an authentic spiritual leaven which, in the course of the centuries, far beyond the boundaries of his country and time, changed the face of Europe following the fall of the political unity created by the Roman Empire, inspiring a new spiritual and cultural unity, that of the Christian faith shared by the peoples of the Continent. This is how the reality we call “Europe” came into being. …

[after his studies in Rome as a young man]…he became a hermit in the neighbouring locality of Subiaco. He lived there completely alone for three years in a cave which has been the heart of a Benedictine Monastery called the Sacro Speco (Holy Grotto) since the early Middle Ages. The period in Subiaco, a time of solitude with God, was a time of maturation for Benedict. It was here that he bore and overcame the three fundamental temptations of every human being: the temptation of self-affirmation and the desire to put oneself at the centre, the temptation of sensuality and, lastly, the temptation of anger and revenge. In fact, Benedict was convinced that only after overcoming these temptations would he be able to say a useful word to others about their own situations of neediness. Thus, having tranquilized his soul, he could be in full control of the drive of his ego and thus create peace around him. Only then did he decide to found his first monasteries in the Valley of the Anio, near Subiaco. …

… Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with his Rule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe.  … Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

And, to bring us monks back down to earth, if only briefly, we might include words preached by Monisgnor Ronald Knox at Ealing in 1937:

The spirit of a great institute like the Benedictine congregation does not survive automatically through the centuries; there is always a danger, as time goes on, that such an institute, depending for its life not so much on any principles of organization as upon the influence of a subtle spirit which animates it, will lose the freshness and the purity of its character; will make terms with the world and forget its secret. “If the salt loses its savour”, our Lord asks, “wherewith shall it be salted?” It will be a bad day for the Church if the black monks, who are meant to hand on a message of peace to us others, lose the spirit of peace which is their inheritance. So let us ask our blessed Lady (the Queen of Peace), and St Benedict … that the monks may live as befits their vocation, men dead with Christ, buried with Christ, risen with Christ, by their prayers and their example giving to the world that peace which, now more obviously than ever, the world cannot give – the peace of God.

Happy Feast!

St Benedict, the refectory court, Douai Abbey

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