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Saint Benedict

by Benedictine Nuns at S. Maria di Rosano, Fides Dossier

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  • Descriptive Title:
    Fides Dossier: Saint Benedict
    Description:
    This Fides Dossier is devoted to the Patriarch of Western monks, Saint Benedict, his character and works, as well as the relevance of his message to modern-day Catholics.
  • Larger Work:
    Fides Dossier
  • Publisher & Date:
    FIDES News Service, Rome, May 23, 2009

Saint Benedict

"I ask St Benedict to help us keep Christ firmly at the heart of our lives. May Christ always have pride of place in our thoughts and in all our activities!" — (Benedict XVI, general audience 27 April 2005)

Contents:

Introduction

Preface

Youth

Hermitage

Subiaco

Montecassino

Conclusion


Introduction

Vatican City (Agenzia Fides) — On May 24 May Pope Benedict XVI will pay a visit to the Monastery of Montecassino. This event is not only a sign of the Holy Father's admiration for and devotion to the great Saint whose name he bears, it is also an act of recognition of St. Benedict's place in the history of the Church and of civilisation. The best way to prepare to live this day is to tune in to this wave-length by learning with the help of this brief excursus, on the figure and the work of the Patriarch of Western monks, and what he still has to say to the men and women of today.

Today we can well repeat what was said at the end of 1980 by Abbot Sebastiano Bovo OSB: «At the closing of the 15th hundredth anniversary of the death of our holy Father, our minds and hearts are filled with the memory of Saint Benedict. However one has the impression that among so many things, good, proper and just, perhaps the underlying theme of this centenary has been somewhat misinterpreted or misdirected towards aspects of our Father and his work, which were not fundamental. His work has been visualised thus: Saint Benedict, Father of Europe; therefore: "ora et labora", "cross, book and plough" . . . Correct! Who would question the affirmation that Saint Benedict initiated a new culture from which the soul of Europe was born? However, this is not Saint Benedict substantially».

Saint Benedict's real intention for himself, and therefore for his monks, was simply to be a perfect Christian, striving to bring to its extreme consequences the Gospel of Christ, the teachings of God-Man who deserves to be loved above all else. Therefore, as St Gregory writes: «if anyone wishes to know more about the habits and life of this saint, he will find all the documents of his magisterium in the teaching of the Rule, because what this man of God taught, he lived».

Abbot Bovo continues: «Continually renewed openness to the Spirit: this is basis of the Rule . . . We have here a spirituality which rediscovers the glory of God, and therefore knows and loves the human person seen in the light of this same glory. To be able to look at the human person with the same look of loving kindness as God! If this was the iter of Saint Benedict, then this must be our iter, as it is traced in the Rule».

Let us see how the life of Benedict developed, drawing inspiration from the writings of Mother M. Ildegarde Cabitza OSB, a milestone in the recent history of the Abbacy of Rosano.


Preface

Benedict is seen by St Gregory, who in his Second Book of Dialogues writes about his life, as «vir Dei, man of God» who, in his youth, did not hesitate to make a courageous and radical choice between the offer of a comfortable and promising earthly life and the supreme demands of God.

The hermit, who longs for the absolute and hides with «Christ in God» in order to be ignored by all and known only to His luminous and loving gaze.

The life of young Benedict is already ascetic, he performs acts of penance, struggling to resist the impulse of evil and free himself from any negative form so as to immerse himself in God and allow himself to be totally transformed by Him.

A courageous and faithful follower of the will of God, he is willing even to renounce the chosen and loved life of solitude to become a master who teaches, a guide who leads, a light which illuminates, strength which encourages and sustains.

But Benedict is above all a Father. He is the «Abba» who generates sons for God, forming them, accompanying them with his example, his word, but above all with his selflessness and his faith.

He is, consequently, the organiser who makes every sphere of daily life, spiritual and material, into a channel of love and peace, a means of lifting up to God a hymn of praise, sacrifice and above all love.

He is a legislator who outlines norms for a courageous journey, fixing them in the words of a Rule drawn from the treasures of his heart for the sons living at his side and even more for those God would give him in the centuries to come.

All this in view of a supernatural goal which is and must always be the daring spring of every life and of every Community: Benedict desires to form souls to believe in the Gospel to the very last line, to live the Gospel words of salvation with total coherence of sentiments and life. He seeks souls willing and able to probe ever deeper into the mystery of the spiritual life, the miracle of grace which renders poor and helpless human beings sons and daughters of God, called to an eternity of glory.

To everyone he proposes one model, Christ. Christ in fact is the sole reality of life, before him «nothing must come» and he must become the interior form, the model on which to base every thought and act, the centre of love towards which everything must converge.

It is by following Christ in this way that the monk becomes a man of simplicity, of prayer and labour, one able to do many things but who does in fact only one, because a unity within him which transforms everything into continuous prayer, an unceasing hymn of adoration, offering, impetration. Whether in Choir singing the praises of his Creator, or curved over heavy labour demanded by his essential poverty, or offering himself in loving and longed for obedience to the one who on earth «stands in the place of Christ», or giving himself with chaste love to brothers walking with him towards heaven, the monk is never divided, split, separated. He is a man of unity because he is a «man of God», a man in whom Christ has become everything, in whom loving becomes breathing, in whom God has become the sole centre and sole vital reality for time and for eternity.


Youth

Saint Gregory, after telegraphically communicating that Benedict was «born of noble family in the region of Norcia» immediately presents him as a young student in Rome and in an environment perhaps similar to that of schools today, from many aspects.

Nothing leads us to suppose that he ceded even slightly to the enchantment which dulled the moral agony of a people which had known true greatness; instead we are led to think that the contrast was striking, between his recollected and meditative soul and the violent demonstration of sentiments which resulted into restless and endless tumult.

In Rome, schools, at the beginning of the 6th century, were no longer those of the golden age of the Empire, not because diminished in number or dignity, indeed Teodorico strove with every means to diffuse culture, but because schools had failed their essential function to shape men in the great and strong ideals of civic and moral life. The task of schools it appeared, was limited to mechanical transmission of literary heritage received from previous centuries and the aim of this jealous love for the classics was perhaps to compensate for the desolating emptiness of the present.

Moreover in a city such as Rome, where St Jerome finds even among the clergy persons anything but edifying and of a worldliness, hardly imaginable today, and where Ammiano Marcellino tells us that, during a period of famine, when people not strictly necessary were forced to leave Rome, comic actors and no less than six thousand dancers and singers were left undisturbed, it is clear that the moral conduct of students can hardly have guaranteed seriousness and sobriety. Immorality spread shamelessly, penetrating even the school, if we are to believe the testimony of Saint Augustine who says «boys are forced by their elders to read and learn, among studies said to be noble and liberal» the obscene productions of a theatre which had lost all inhibitions of morality. This situation must have accentuated the dishevelled and pleasure-seeking physiognomy of student population, which, although it had earned itself fame of indiscipline everywhere, in the Rome of those times it was given to unbridled liberty taking.

This does not mean that students did not study: to say this, would be exaggerated and unjust, and proof of this is the intellectual maturity reached by Benedict, even though he abandoned his course of studies uncompleted, but it cannot be denied that the school structure failed completely to produce deep impressions or encourage any higher ideal.

This was the environment with which the Umbrian student came into contact during the period of his cultural formation, matured in the silence of his region, perfectly conscious of the true value of life: a precocious maturity, a meditative habit in contrast with his youth, led him as if by instinct to discover the very essence of that life which donned frills to hide its wretchedness. He could not have been immune to the profound sadness felt by every great soul to see the reckless prodigality and wild light-heartedness with which life's best years, those richest in energy were wasted: the sensuality which had become norm and purpose of life, rather than seduce him, filled him with repugnance and disgust, accentuating the sense of pride and moral uprightness which was the sacred heritage of his people.

Beyond all appearances he felt the need to encounter face to face, unveiled, the true reality of man and of things, the reality of that Rome where everything appeared splendid, revealed increasingly day by day, nameless wretchedness, compared above all with the urgent problem of a life ordered to a supreme goal which transcends time and the contingence of human vicissitudes, and which even in its purely earthly respects, is of incommensurable value.

With the vigour of a robust conviction emerging, as a fruit of calm reflection, from the comparison of values, Benedict is strengthened in his Christian sense, which had now become a lived experience of the vanity of everything which passes and wastes life, without drawing close to God individually and socially. His profoundly serious soul was confronted with a sort of necessity to choose between acceptance of that compromise of Christian life in which there was a collision between most disparate interests, and heroic fidelity of radical implementation of the evangelical life, lived in no half terms and to extreme conclusions.

We do not know the duration of this period of inner travail, certainly the rights of the spirit prevailed: Benedict was not one for accommodating transactions. In a society where the supreme norm of life appeared to be pleasure and ambition, he would be the «Vir Dei» (man of God), in the absolute and exclusive sense of the word.


Hermitage

The thoughtful and pure student who leaves Rome to answer a call which he has yet to embrace in all its extension, but is determined to follow, is still on the ordinary plane of life. He takes up abode at Affile, a small town about eighty kilometres from the capital, but from here too, for several reasons, he decides to move away. By this time his supernatural vitality has reached such intensity, his soul has entered into such profound intimacy with God, that we have the feeling that before us we have an authentic Saint.

Between these two extremes which could have enclosed a period of time, not excessively long, is an existential reality: Benedict has given himself to God, and of this faithful servant, always listening, ever willing to obey the word accepted in the heart, the Lord has made a friend, a saint, a being ready to cooperate with the plans of God; how, this is God's secret; worth analysing in our inquisitive investigation?

Having left Affile, Benedict retreats to a cave, almost unreachable not far from Subiaco and there for three whole years, he watches days follow days, in the heat of Summer and in the icy Winter which froze the land, without any human contact to break the solitude. Yet those were not three years of animalisation or deplorable moral inertia: instead there should be considered the most fecund of his whole life, during which the soul fermented, travailed by grace, the leaven of interior renewal which would one day hit the world. He was unaware. What does it matter to man to find out beforehand the plans of God" What matters is to let oneself be forged by the Spirit, in generosity of faith, with the adaptability of love which removes all the resistance of nature.

Although we have little information, almost none, about this period of his life, it is not difficult to think how the twenty year old hermit, hidden in a «hole in the rock» lived those three years; segregating himself in the cave he was well aware of the vast programme he proposed to undertake. It was necessary to compensate the wound opened in the soul by original sin: sensuality, excessive love of earthly possessions, pride; to establish strong control over passions with a voluntary illuminated and direct act of the intellect; to train for battle against the spirit of evil in order to unmask and avoid its snares; to wriggle loose of the world, restoring, through direct contact with the Truth, candid Christian conscience, with no imposture or incoherence.

And all this already complex interior effort was only the negative aspect, the preliminary condition which was to enable the monk to reach that state of «continual prayer» which in our modern language we will call a «state of union» with its untranslatable experience of God present and working within the human person.


Subiaco

It is known that when the three years had passed, one Easter Sunday an angel reveals to a priest of that area the place where Benedict is living. This marks the end of his solitude. The monks of a nearby Monastery, despite his resistance, elect him as their Abbot but, soon, unwilling to change their terrible habits, they attempt to poison him. Miraculously saved, Benedict returns to the Speco, but his life was no longer the same.

In those three years his soul had acquired new vigour and he had reached full awareness of his own wretchedness and of the power of grace: years of seeing with the eye of God, depending on Him, profound assimilation of the Holy Books, the ascetic doctrine of the desert Fathers, had elevated his inner life to that grade in which it is possible to spread oneself without becoming impoverished.

The cave is a joyful refuge for the spirit which abandons itself to intimacy with his Lord heart to heart,: contact with souls will be spontaneous almost necessary expansion of charity, like light which illuminates but is never exhausted, but his real life, his deepest and most intimate life, is that of total self donation to God, thanks to which every form of service performed in a spirit of adoration enriches spiritual life.

The most austere asceticism imposed on his body in those years, had the value of a means rather than an end, and this value maintained intact in its essence of mortification and renunciation: renunciation of total solitude now that it was so sweet, and the comfort of the dearest relations before, when it was necessary to eradicate from the heart the attraction of relations with creatures in order to learn to recognise the taste of the intimate word of the Creator.

Eastern monarchism was a movement of giant proportions and in tens of thousands monk had populated the deserts of Egypt, training themselves in rigorous ascetic solitude; the world was filled with enthusiastic admiration, and even Rome allowed herself to be fascinated and to offer to the monastic ideal recruits who, for splendour of holiness and renunciation, could compete with the ascetics of the East.

However Benedict could not have ignored the fact that heroism was never for the crowd, in fact the rapid expansion of monastic life also in the West where it penetrated in every social environment, was never to the advantage of its interior vigour; the necessary adaptation of the ruling principles, left to the prudence of individuals, was not always successful, and initial fervour was soon followed by an inevitable and almost general condition of slackening.

The fundamental issue was therefore the insertion in a vital and fecund manner the traditional canons of monastic ascetic life in the temperament, mentality, life styles, in the same natural postulates of the Western world.

Among all those well intentioned disciples who came to him with a desire for a robust discipline of interior life, perhaps none would have been able to face the harshness of the hermitage, especially from the aspect of real and effective means of development of the spirit in an ascension sustained by grace, certainly, but also with the indispensable cooperation of the will, without adequate preparation, to train them for the struggle with solitude, the most arduous, the hardest of all.

Hence the preference for a form of associate life, a «school» for souls — and they were already numerous — to offer God perfect service in spirit and in truth. However this ideal requested considerable material and economic organisation, in proportion to the monastery's future development. This necessity could not be overlooked if the normal growth of the monastery was to be guaranteed.

The monastic colony organised by Benedict in Subiaco, industrious nucleus of intense spiritual activity, soon revealed its singular power of attraction. Even the most distant, distracted and superficial, perhaps without realising the real sense, were led to reflect on a phenomenon there for all to see and which continued to assume ever greater proportions. There was no escaping the certainty of the existence of some supernatural force, able to forcefully pull away from the world and change men who, until yesterday, had been like everyone else, who had shared with the rest, the same wretched life cluttered with earthly interests, and who were now engaged in a fierce battle for the total liberation of the new man born of grace, from clutter of the old man of sin, entangled in his passions.

For those who frequented the Subiaco monasteries the Gospel no longer sounded like something abstract, irremediably distant from life, instead it appeared to be lived in all its holiness by the monks of Benedict who, like himself, «believed in Love» and strove to reproduce within themselves as perfectly as possible, the image of Christ, poor, humble, obedient, who became Man to offer himself to us as the Way for Life.

That mute lesson, which without clamour of words affirmed the ever new truth of the divine promises, a lived experiment of the Gospel beatitudes, impressed souls. The good people around about were no longer filled with admiration for one man, gifted with out of the ordinary gifts and virtues to venerate as a Saint, but in the category of exceptions, now many could consider in the light of this new life sons, brothers, whom they had seen born and grow up, without any evidence to adumbrate anything special, who one day, joyfully and with simplicity, left everything to follow the call of the Lord.

Since the now distant years of segregation in the cave, the pilgrimage of needy souls to visit the man of God had never ceased, and he never tired of welcoming all, never disappointed the trust which led people to seek in him remedy, comfort, for all sorts of ailment in body or spirit, sending them away always more illuminated, consoled with eternal hopes.

Many, under the influence of that word, of the spectacle of labour no longer an incentive to curse the one who imposed the burden oppressive, but a means of redemption, elevation, performed in a spirit of penance and adoration, had the intuition that only by submitting themselves to such discipline would life acquire full meaning, and asked, ever more numerous, to embrace it wholly, while others strove to instil its spirit into their daily occupations.


Montecassino

However Subiaco, with its twelve small monasteries, was not the ultimate mission of Benedict. A dispute, connected with jealousy on the part of a priest in the vicinity, was the occasion for him to understand God's new call and, without hesitating, certain of his way, he set out with determination to start his definitive plan for monastic foundation. Having completing the legal formalities at the Court of Ravenna to obtain possession of the rock of Montecassino, and making in Rome, where he was now no stranger, the necessary agreements with the ecclesiastic authorities, he obtained full spiritual and temporal powers for the new mission to which he knew he was destined by Divine Providence.

After reorganising the twelve monasteries in Subiaco under the direction of superiors to guarantee the continuation of the tranquil rhythm of life, towards the end of the Winter of the year 529, without making a sound, he took with him a few monks and left the town which had seen his holiness flourish and where souls had so generously responded to the call of grace.

In his long experience in Subiaco, Benedict had ideally constructed a project for one Monastery, large enough to accommodate all the monks without having to break them up in small autonomous communities and which would contain what was requested for the necessities of life, water, mill, vegetable garden, oven and other eventual dependencies, indispensable for guaranteeing full efficiency for the monastic family, eliminating in this way the inconvenience, grave for the monks, of frequent absence in order to provide for the most elementary needs. In the new conception, the material building should be shaped in such a way as to guarantee one fundamental requisite for the monk to reach the goal of his vocation: separation from the world, through the elimination of even the most legitimate pretexts for contact with outside which would inevitably damage the soul.

The work undertaken, especially in contrast with the state of desolate abandon of the surrounding countryside, from which, with a sense of confidence in a future always uncertain due to continual devastation by barbarians, to obtain merely the necessary for a humble life, must have deeply impressed the people of those times. The task was a song of hope, and act of faith in life, while all around weighed the nightmare of desolation.

In Montecassino Benedict's monastic concept, reached its fullness.

The plan of the monastic day, and life with features so well defined as to offer the impression of fixity, is merely the indispensable framework for courageous and concrete implementation of the highest ideal man has given himself on this earth: to obtain union with his God, in the most intimate and real manner possible, both through the veil of the faith since, as long as we are pilgrims, we are denied the beatific vision, the consummation of union in full and perfect possession of uncreated charity.

The men who, bending to the inflexible and typically paternal discipline of Benedict, on Monte Cassino, protected by the cloister which renders them segregated from the world, work and pray, hold in their silence a powerful dynamism of interior life, which keeps them set with their whole being on a supernatural destiny, in which they find the beginning and the end of their existence, in appearance incomprehensible, absurd, if we heed the temptation to evaluate it with our petty means of measure made for things here on earth.

They are, in actual fact, passionate seekers of God who struggle along the way, in a virile ascent of liberation and purification, to join the Beginning of life, God who had created man in perfect purity, thus rendering him capable of intimacy «friend to friend».

To heal this nameless wretchedness, the sum of all human wretchedness which we call, «sin», came the Redemption, achieved through the mystery of the Incarnation, Passion and Death of the Son of God, Christ. However this work of redemption, in itself of infinite effectiveness and power, is, by providential design, limited in its effect to the measure of our cooperation with it, because, as Saint Augustine so eloquently says, God who created us without our help chose to save us with our help, thus elevating us, in keeping with our dignity as intelligent beings, to the level of his cooperators in the work of interior rebuilding which, from ruins created by sin, leads us to the splendour of holiness.

Every Christian life has in itself this power, this capacity to rise to the restoration of intimate relation with God, through grades and forms of holiness, which implicate however, renunciation of evil and pursuit of good, in a continual journey, the destination of which is God himself. In actual fact, few persons, in the immense mass, are committed to this life, and those who consent to implement in themselves the fullness of Redemption, according to the demands of the spirit in perpetual contrast with the flesh, remain solitary on a little trodden path, seen by others with a sort of surprise mixed with pity.

To those who come to him asking to be formed for the monastic life, Benedict poses this fundamental question: are they truly searching for God «si revera Deum quaerant». That is if they are certain about the goal to be reached: possession of God, union with Him, reached progressively by means of ardent charity and inexhaustible energy, and determination to reach this ideal, ready to give all for All, ready for every sacrifice in totalitarian measure, no half terms. A will, in a word, which refuses to be content with any intermediate good, but which desires absolutely and exclusively, the very essence of Goodness, God.

If a soul has this initial disposition, it can undergo a trial, but without, it would be useless. The climate of Monastic life is not suitable for lesser ideals, for half-wills, willing to settle for many goods which can be reached with less effort and offer more immediate satisfaction: it demands strong men.

They will be given a model: Christ. The entire method of ascetic life in which they will exercise themselves can be summarised as follows: contemplate Christ and reproduce in oneself the traits necessary to be perfectly configured to Him, thoughts in keeping with His, loving what He loves, speaking and doing as he taught.

The grades of this configuration, vivified with charity, will mark the grades of union, until reaching perfect adherence and the cry of this Apostle: «I live, not I, Christ lives in me». (Gal 2, 20)

Saint Benedict sees the life of the monk as a sum of activity, struggle, race, laborious ascent. In fact not without brute force can this work be achieved in the soul since it implicates various operations to eliminate evil and assimilate good, work which often lasts a lifetime, and which must never cease, not even during the icy Winters of the soul when everything in it appears to be dead, or the violence of contrary suggestions, or the depressing awareness of wretchedness of which we never touch the bottom.

The Monastery on Monte Cassino was not to be a comfortable refuge for sluggish souls who dream of idyllic peace in which to live protected from the vexations of life. Benedict built it like a gymnasium where, in compact lines men would train to wrestle; a forge of spiritual art where men would learn to shape life according to the demands of a supreme ideal, accepting to be beaten under the mallet, living daily death in the joyous awareness that this gives life its highest value.

This imposes, logically, certain preliminary conditions, first of all radical and definitive renunciation of any inferior good which might hinder an exclusive search for God, or even simply lessen the impulse. Progressive renunciation which affects material goods, wealth, bodily goods and connected legitimate satisfaction, spiritual goods, including the will, man's most intimate possession, which even God respects.

This triple renunciation places the monk in perfect segregation, severing every earthly tie between him and the world, giving him, the moment it is performed the good of freedom, the essential condition for his pilgrimage towards the Absolute.

The act of renunciation introduces however to a state in which it is necessary to be on guard against elements which would distract the monk, elements exterior and intimate which impose a double barrier, the external barrier of the monastic cloister, the interior barrier of the generous exercise of virtue. The aim is to neutralise the action of the triple concupiscence inherent to our condition of fallen nature, ever lying in wait to re-enslave the person who escapes thanks to this mighty conquest of self with which the spirit, sustained by grace, prevails over all values of the flesh.

Benedict is jealous of this material separation from the world, with a rigour which at first glance might appear excessive: the monk no longer belongs to the world, he should carefully eliminate contacts which might maintain or cause to reappear in him a mentality which he has renounced in order to establish his life at a higher level, and regulate it exclusively in view of possession of the kingdom of God. He should strive to forego multiplicity which wastes those spiritual energies which tend to union, total adhesion to the «unum necessarium».

One day Saint Benedict was told that hermit Martino, famous in that part of the world for the singular holiness of his life, to force himself not to leave the cave chosen for his dwelling place, had attached a chain to one of his feet and then attached the other end of the chain to a rock, putting himself in crude but voluntary captivity.

Among the saints, at times, there are bold intimacies and the abbot of Montecassino sent one of his disciples to the hermit of Monte Marsico with a singular recommendation: «If you are a servant of God, O Martino, may you be held not by chains of iron, but by the chains of Christ».

These revealing words contain the soul of Benedict, the reforming spirit of his life, of the Rule written for his sons and daughters. He sees them fundamentally as «seekers of Dio», men and women who see in the light of grace, a good, indeed, the Good, to which tend all their energies, who are, in a word, ruled by a great love.

The intensity of this love marks the profundity and the seriousness of this arduous seeking, and alone guarantees fidelity to the means which must lead to the end; without love, measured with our commonplace measuring units, the life which Benedict proposed to his sons and which he lived, is absurd. One of its most profound precepts demands that the monk place nothing before love for Christ, and for God, total love with all his heart, all his soul and all his strength.

The ultimate movement of absolute obedience, even in things which might appear impossible, is one alone: love of God.

This same love which teaches the monk to pray for his enemies, to embrace with generosity and impetus, indeed to «guard», the Rule, to have humble and devoted reverence for the abbot, not for his human qualities but for «amore Christi».

Love of Christ! The words which return in various chapters of the Rule with a frequency by no means calculated, like the supreme explanation of the most austere spiritual demands, to the point, that speaking of monastic obedience, the Saint calls it the virtue most becoming «for those who consider that they have nothing dearer than Christ»; the others who do not love, how could they understand the value of this holocaust which is the highest gift a creature can offer to God?

And thus, at the peak of the twelve grades of humility, which consist in a rugged journey of ascent, the goal, the reward which justifies every effort, will be attainment of perfect charity, the joy of the exercise of virtue, full possession of God.

The true binding force of the monk which ties him indissolubly to his monastery will be the «catena Christi» , love which transcends all other loves, the joy and the inexhaustible power of his life as a seeker of God.

In this light of no surprise, is the manner in which Benedict died: when the time came — which he had foreseen — for his death he asked to be carried to the oratory where, surrounded by the crown of his sons, who supported his standing fever worn body, he equipped himself with the viaticum of life, the mercy, the charity, for the final step, that is the Body and Blood of Christ, then lifting his hands heavenwards in a prayer of thanksgiving, intense and vibrant with longing for eternal communion, still standing, the good soldier of Christ, having fought the good battle, readily responding to the call, he entered the joy of his Lord.

That very day, two monks far away from Montecassino each in his own cell far away one from the other, had an identical vision. They saw a path triumphantly adorned with banners, sparkling with the light of innumerable lanterns, leading from the cell of their Holy Father to heaven. On the path, a man of noble and venerable aspect, asked them the name of the path, and since they were unable to reply, he explained: «This is the path along which Benedict, in whom God is well pleased, ascended to heaven».


Conclusion

And we will conclude with some well known words of another great Pope, Paul VI, who said at Montecassino on 24 October 1964 on the occasion of the consecration of the church of Archicenobio: «. . . yes, both the Church and the world, for different but converging reasons, need Saint Benedict to leave the ecclesial and social community, and surround himself with his fence of solitude and silence, and allow us to hear the enchanting sound of his calm and rapt prayer, from there he seems almost to tempt us and call us to threshold of his cloister, to offer us the vision of a workshop of «divine service», a small ideal society, where at last there reigns love, obedience, freedom from things and the art of using them well, prevalence of the spirit, peace, in a word, the Gospel. May Saint Benedict return to help us retrieve our personal life, that personal life for which we today so long for, and which the development of modern life, to which we owe the exasperated desire for being ourselves, suffocates while awakening it, disappoints while rendering it aware. And it is this thirst for authentic personal life, which renders monastic life still so relevant today.

(In the time of Saint Benedict, withdrawing from the world was motivated by) decadence of society, moral and cultural depression of a world which no longer offered the spirit the possibility of conscience, growth, conversion; there was need of a refuge in order to find once again security, calm, study, prayer, work, friendship, confidence.

Today it is not a lack of social community which pushes man towards the same refuge, but exuberance, excitement, noise, commotion, restlessness, exteriority, the multitude, threaten man's interior life; he needs silence with its genuine interior word, he needs order, he needs prayer, he needs peace, he needs himself. To rediscover self-control and spiritual enjoyment, man needs to go again to a Benedictine cloister».

© Fides News Service

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