Faithful Heroes: Saint Benedicts

 

Saint Benedict, or Benedict of Nursia, is considered the patron saint of Europe. His Rule of Saint Benedict contains precepts, or commandments and instructions, for his monks.

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble. He was born around March 480 in Norcia, Umbria {in central Italy today}. It is believed he had a twin sister, Scholastica.

According to Pope Gregory, Benedict was at the beginning of his life, studying for a career as a Roman noble, and deeply affected by the love of a woman. Historians agree this

Saint Benedict

makes him at least twenty years old, when he decided to abandon his studies and leave home.

He wanted to get away from city life and took an old nurse with him as a servant. They settled in Endife, about forty miles from Rome, and a mountainous region.

For three years, Benedict became a hermit and lived in a cave on a lake.

“One day, the Devil brought before his imagination a beautiful woman he had formerly known, inflaming his heart with strong desire for her. Immediately, Benedict stripped off his clothes and rolled into a thorn-bush until his body was lacerated. Thus, through the wounds of the body, he cured the wounds of his soul.”

He became friends with a monk named Romanus, who was his only friend during this time of isolation.

Saint Scholastica, sister to Saint Benedict

Pope Gregory described him as “maturing both in mind and character, in knowledge of himself and of his fellow-man, and at the same time he became not merely known to, but secured the respect of, those about him; so much so that on the death of the abbot of a monastery in the neighborhood, the community came to him and begged him to become its abbot.”

He gave his consent, but the arrangement did not last when the monks tried to poison him. A neighborhood priest tried to poison his drink {and the cup shattered when prayed over}, poison his bread {and a raven swept in to take it}, and seduce the monks with prostitutes.

In 530, Benedict left Subiaco, where the cave was located, to avoid further temptation. He went to found the great Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino.

He had an idea of gathering various families of monks into one “Grand Monastery” to give them the benefit of unity, fraternity, and permanent worship in one house. Finally, he began to build what was to become one of the most famous monasteries in the world—Monte Cassino, commanding three narrow valleys running toward the mountains north of Naples. He founded twelve monasteries in the area.

It is said that once a year his sister would visit and they would “spend the day worshiping

together and discussing sacred texts and issues. One day they had supper and continued their conversation. When Benedict indicated it was time for him to leave, perhaps sensing the time of her death was drawing near, Scholastica asked him to stay with her for the evening so they could continue their discussions. Not wishing to break his own Rule, Benedict refused, insisting that he needed to return to his cell. At that point, Scholastica closed her hands in prayer, and after a moment, a wild storm started outside of the guest house in which they were housed. Benedict asked, “What have you done?”, to which she replied, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” Benedict was unable to return to his monastery, and they spent the night in discussion. According to Gregory’s Dialogues, three days later, from his cell, he saw his sister’s soul leaving the earth and ascending to heaven in the form of a shining white dove. Benedict had her body brought to his monastery, where he caused it to be laid in the tomb which he had prepared for himself.”

“During the invasion of Italy, Totila, King of the Goths, ordered a general to wear his kingly

Saint Benedict

robes and to see whether Benedict would discover the truth. Immediately the Saint detected the impersonation, and Totila came to pay him due respect.”

“In one story of Benedict’s life, a poor man came to the monastery begging for a little oil. Although Benedict commanded that the oil be given, the cellarer refused — because there was only a tiny bit of oil left. If the cellarer gave any oil as alms there would be none for the monastery. Angry at this distrust of God’s providence, Benedict knelt down to pray. As he prayed a bubbling sound came from inside the oil jar. The monks watched in fascination as oil from God filled the vessel so completely that it overflowed, leaked out beneath the lid and finally pushed the cover off, cascading out on to the floor.”

He died at Monte Cassino, not long after his sister Saint Scholastica. They are buried at the same place. He is said to die on the very day God told him he would.

He is believed to have died in either 543.

Saint Benedict

In Benedictine prayer, our hearts are the vessel empty of thoughts and intellectual striving. All that remains is the trust in God’s providence to fill us. Emptying ourselves this way brings God’s abundant goodness bubbling up in our hearts, first with an inspiration or two, and finally overflowing our heart with contemplative love.

His feast day is July 11th.

He was named patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

In 1980, Pope John Paul II declared him co-patron of Europe, together with Saints Cyril and Methodius.

St. Benedict’s cave

The main sources of information on Benedict come from a short poem by Mark of Monte Cassino and text by Pope Gregory I, whose’s authenticity is often disputed.

For his piety and faith, Saint Benedict of Nursia is a faithful hero.

 

 

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