[Pastoral Note: The feast of St. Benedict had been celebrated on the date of his death, March 21, for many years, however since 1970 it has been celebrated on July 11. For purposes of having a reflection during Lent of a saint with such a profound spiritual impact, we note St. Benedict here, on his traditional date. But, fear not, he will be observed at Mass on July 11, on his regularly observed feast day.]
St. Benedict was born around 480, the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, along with his twin sister, Scholastica, whose feast we had a few weeks ago. His boyhood was spent in Rome, where he lived with his parents and attended school until he had reached his higher studies. Benedict watched in horror as vice unraveled the lives and ethics of his companions. So, giving over his books, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with a mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might attain the desire of a holy life. He lived in a small village with his nurse. When God called him beyond this quiet life to an even deeper solitude, he went to the mountains of Subiaco. One of the best practices of Christianity is taking an annual retreat. A day or two away from the world can help us to refocus that God is calling us to love Him and our neighbor. This can be at a Benedictine monastery or other retreat house.
One day, during his time living in a cave above a lake as a hermit, the Devil presented Benedict's imagination with a beautiful, tempting woman. Benedict resisted by rolling his body into a thorn bush until it was covered in scrapes. It is said through these body wounds, he cured the wounds of his soul. After years of prayer, word of his holiness brought nearby monks to ask for his leadership. He warned them he would be too strict for them, but they insisted -- then tried to poison him when his warning proved true. The story goes, the monks attempted to poison Benedict's drink, but when he prayed a blessing over the cup - it shattered. Benedict’s struggle for virtue and a persistent prayer life helped him develop a closer relationship and trust in God.
The next set of followers were more sincere, and he set up twelve monasteries in Subiaco where monks lived in separate communities. He left these monasteries abruptly when the envious attacks of another hermit made it impossible to continue the spiritual leadership he had taken. In Monte Cassino, he founded the monastery that became the roots of the Church's monastic system. Instead of founding small separate communities, he gathered his disciples into one whole community. His own sister, Saint Scholastica, settled nearby to live a religious life. Many people are looking for the freedom that comes with knowing and serving God, but they have not found God yet. We have the good news of salvation and it needs to be shared with the world.
No one had ever set up communities like his before or directed them with a rule. Benedict had the holiness and the ability to take this step. His beliefs and instructions on religious life were collected in what is now known as the Rule of Saint Benedict -- still directing religious life after 15 centuries. He died on March 21st, 543, not long after his sister.
St Benedict, pray for us.