Thomas Griffin (7/11/20)
Benedict was born in Norcia, Italy in 480 A.D. towards the end of the rule of the Roman Empire. His parents were wealthy and he lived an ordinary life for the social class he found himself in. He was schooled in his hometown and as a bright student went to Rome to continue his studies. The lifestyle in Rome drove him to start a religious way of life which would shape the future of the Church and enrich the lives of millions. Today, his advice is more pivotal than ever before.
Rome was filled with debauchery, crime, and licentiousness. The city was consumed by lives that pursued pleasure, over and above, everything else. Wealth, honor and physical pleasures were viewed as the vehicles to arrive at a life of true happiness and fulfillment. Benedict saw these realities and knew that life among the Romans would only lead to disaster. He fled to the desert and became a monk, Rome fell only four years later. The pursuit of happiness through pleasure proved to be futile. In order for our country to avoid the same fate, it must recover and establish principles that encourage civility and virtue over pleasure and power.
As a hermit, he and others, lived an austere existence providing for themselves and pursuing deep encounters with Christ through silence and contemplation. Within only three years, Benedict was named abbot (spiritual and practical father) of the community of men he lived with. His authenticity in prayer and his counsel was valued beyond all price by those who met him and proved the value of a noble life.
Within a few years Benedict wrote what became known as The Rule of St. Benedict which was an outline of living that was meant for people who lived outside of the monastery. His writings advised how to incorporate God into ordinary life; how to inject Christ into everything that you do, say, and are.
The Rule is where the Church received the famous phrase ora et labora (work and prayer) which became foundational for countless religious orders that were instituted from that point forward. Benedict was extremely detailed and gave instructions on how to act and live for each portion of everyday life.
Here are some qualities that Benedict counselled others to employ throughout the various times of the day:
- Praise, gratitude, and joy at dawn
- Blessing and communion with the Holy Spirit at mid-morning
- Fervor, commitment, and a longing for peace at noon
- A sense of impermanence and a willingness to forgive at mid-afternoon
- Serenity and healing at dusk
- Opening to the darkness at night
These would become attitudes to order one’s life in a way that became habitually present to the presence of God at each moment. As we wake we are called to give thanks to God for the gift of a new day. As we go about our morning we are called to union with God’s Spirit who is always at our side. As we arrive at midday we are called to commit ourselves to the day that lies ahead, despite how the morning may have transpired.
As our afternoon proceeds we are called to acknowledge that life is not meant to go on forever in this world, but that we are created for eternity. As the sun sets we are called to admire the tranquility of a day coming to a close, while at night we are asked to be attentive to the dark and how it can bring about temptations that can take our eyes off the pursuit of holiness.
It takes only a quick glance to notice the intellectual, practical, and spiritual genius of St. Benedict. His horrible experiences in Rome stayed with him to such a degree that he desired to spend his life in prayer and reflection on how to combat the challenges of the world in a positive manner. His Rule can be utilized by monks, priests, nuns, and lay people as the recipe to sanctify everything we do by developing an acute awareness of God’s presence and living the habit of encounter with the divine life.
As our world appears to become more and more like Rome before its fall, we are called to Christify the world through our ordinariness. The mundane would never be dull if we called to mind a habitual preference for doing God’s work. Benedict was able to do this, and he gives us the blueprint to follow after him, and Christ. Discipline leads to desire, which leads to a transformation of self and society.
Practice The Rule of St. Benedict, not because it controls your life, but because it sets you free to live for others and live deeply united to God. That will enable our great nation and our glorious globe to never fall like Rome.
St. Benedict, pray for us and guide us.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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