SUNDAY, JULY 11: Slow down today, take a deep breath and hold the focus of a Benedictine monk; today is the Roman Catholic and Anglican feast of St. Benedict, the man who shaped Western monasticism in a profound way. St. Benedict was born into a distinguished family; in 480 CE, in central Italy, Benedict entered a world where chaos and conflict dominated. (AmericanCatholic has details.) After studying in Rome, a young Benedict moved to a small town and, later, headed into the mountains.
Benedict spent three years as a hermit, and soon after, other monks began looking to Benedict as a leader. Although Bendict’s rules were too strict for some, an idea had already begun to form in his mind: Benedict hoped to gather communities of monks, so they could feel fraternity and unity. (Read more at Wikipedia.) Benedict began building Monte Cassino, one of the most famous monasteries in the world, and there he created a regimen of liturgical prayer, study, manual labor and service to the community.
If knowledge is power, St. Benedict became an ancient Dale Carnegie as he transformed what he had learned in school to something that would suit his spiritual purposes. Originally, St. Benedict left his studies in Rome because he was disgusted at the ways his fellow students were being instructed to use the power of eloquent speech; later in life, Benedict used rhetoric and oratorical rhythms to promote God. When it came to study of the Scriptures, however, Benedict taught that devotees should avoid relying too much on their intellectual responses. Rather than analyzing passages from the Bible immediately, Benedict believed in the power of slowing down. First, Scriptures would be read until a phrase inspired a person to stop; next, the person would memorize the phrase and repeat it until he could recite it from memory; and once the person could repeat the phrase without thinking about it, Benedict believed the words would be taken over by God. Once a person was filled with nothing but the Word of God, Benedict taught that prayers would effortlessly spring out from disciples’ mouths. (Get the Catholic perspective, and a fun cartoon, at Catholic.org.)
St. Benedict is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church, too, and was canonized by Pope Honorius III in 1220. Today, this monastic leader is the patron protector of all of Europe. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI declared St. Benedict as the figure responsible for aiding Europe in emerging from the “dark night of history.” It’s recorded that St. Benedict died in his own Monte Cassino, while standing in prayer to God, and his rules shape monastic life to this day.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
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