St. Benedict by Father Meinrad Dufner OSB

Saint Benedict, along with his twin sister, Saint Scholastica, was born in the Umbrian hill town of Norcia in Italy around 480. He was sent to Rome for studies at a time when the Roman empire was reeling from barbarian invasions.

Benedict left Rome to become a hermit for three years at Subiaco in the mountains northeast of Rome. As people sought him out for spiritual guidance he developed a community of monks.

Eventually the monks moved farther south to Monte Cassino, high above the road going from Rome to Naples. Here Benedict wrote a Rule which brought together the wisdom of monastic tradition with his own deep understanding of human beings. Benedict died around 547.

His monastery at Monte Cassino was destroyed three times over the centuries but continues in existence today. The bodies of Benedict and Scholastica are buried beneath the high altar of the church. Saint Benedict was declared to be the Patron of Europe by Pope Paul VI. The church celebrates the feast of Saint Benedict on July 11th. Benedictines also observe the older feast of his death on March 21st. Saint Scholastica is honored on February 10th.




Fr Laurence Freeman's Five Essential Things

Laurence Freeman is a Benedictine monk and director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. He draws on the teaching of his mentor, the late John Main OSB to promote the ancient practice of contemplative prayer in the Christian tradition, founded on the insights of the earliest monks and nuns of the Egyptian and Syrian deserts. The teachings of such early Christian monks as Evagrius Ponticus, whose writings entered the heart of Western monasticism through his follower John Cassian, lead to a profound yet simple practice of contemplative prayer that is rooted in scripture and ascetical practice. This tradition offers profound insight into the human condition and into the way we can encounter God in our poverty of spirit, a poverty that leads to the greatest riches. The WCCM website and its associated app offer regular reflections from the writings of John Main and Laurence Freeman and I strongly recommend it. The following is a quotation from a recent article that caught my attention for its simplicity, wisdom and succinctness. It proposes five essential elements to the Christian spiritual life and needs no further comment from me:

Understanding the scriptures. The rejection of the sacred scriptures of humanity by the closed rationalist mind is one of the worst self-inflicted wounds of our culture. It is equaled only by the contemporary heresy of literalism, as stupid in its way as the rationalist approach is blind. Recovering the spiritual taste and sense of scripture is a priority for all our educational programs, but it requires a re-stimulation of the perceptive powers needed to awaken us to them.

Participating in the Eucharist. No just “going to church” but sharing in the koinonia and fellowship of the mystical ritual that is performed there. Different churches have varying approaches to the Eucharist. And many today see all religious ritual except those that have the benefit of being novel and exotic as meaningless. But again, before the sacramental sense can be restored some interior wakening of the spiritual senses has to begin.

Mindfulness of death. Every wisdom tradition sees this as a valuable practice. It challenges our culture’s endemic denial of death. This denial explains the ways that we both entertain ourselves with violence in the media and find it so hard to recognize that drawing our last breath. . . .is not failure, but may be welcomed and embraced at the right moment in our life.

Small acts of kindness. When John Main was once asked what was the best way to prepare for meditation, this was what he replied. A smile or polite gesture that we offer as we turn our attention away from ourselves to others can transform us and them in the moment. On a different scale it applies to all our work for justice and peace, for the relief of suffering or the education of the young. Whatever we do remains “small.” We cannot save the whole world by anything we do. But everything we do makes a difference.

Saying the mantra*. This, as John Cassian says, collects all the emotions of human nature and helps us adjust to every situation. It is a Eucharistic act because, like the Eucharist, it reveals and celebrates the real presence. It awakens a taste for scripture that can highlight the significance of any experience we are undergoing. It gets to the root of all fear, including the fear of death, because it helps us live in the present moment that includes the continuous mindfulness of death. Death and resurrection are of the moment. Finally, it is an act of the purest kindness to ourselves. And by making us feel better about ourselves, it frees and fuels us to love others.

* John Main's approach to contemplative prayer or meditation was founded on the simple recitation of a mantra twice a day for 20-30 minutes each time. The mantra, or prayer word, he recommended was 'maranatha', an ancient Aramaic word meaning 'come, Lord' which is found in 1 Cor 16:22 and some other early Christian writings.



A Prayer of St Benedict (480-547)

Gracious and holy Father,
please give me:
intellect to understand you;
reason to discern you;
diligence to seek you;
wisdom to find you;
a spirit to know you;
a heart to meditate upon you;
ears to hear you;
eyes to see you;
a tongue to proclaim you;
a way of life pleasing to you;
patience to wait for you;
and perseverance to look for you.
Grant me:
a perfect end,
your holy presence.
A blessed resurrection,
And life everlasting.