This year we are celebrating the Solemnity of Saint Benedict on July 12th. Normally the solemnity is kept on July 11th, but because that date was a Sunday this year, we transferred the celebration to July 12th.
In his Rule, Saint Benedict gives specific ways that one should follow to reach the goal of life in the kingdom of the Father. The path that Saint Benedict indicates includes the ways of obedience, humility, prayer and fraternal charity. These could be called the “essential lessons” or “required courses,” that will be given to those who enter the school of the Lord’s service. In a sense, Saint Benedict does not teach a developed theology of the spiritual life, as later saints and mystics do, but he does set forth important principles for learning the ways that lead to God and what should be avoided in order to stay near to the Lord.
The basis of all of Saint Benedict’s teaching is, of course, faith. Apart from faith the program of monastic life makes no sense. Faith in Christ and faith in His Church are fundamental for any progress in virtue. Making a commitment in faith, such as to the monastic way, creates an atmosphere where the whole of one’s life takes shape and has meaning. The beauty of the Rule from one thousand five hundred years ago is precisely that it has been shaping lives ever since the Rule was written, about the year 500 AD.
Jesus taught His followers: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Saint Benedict is reiterating the same teaching. We daily carry out the commands of Christ in the context of our living community, our superiors and all those who enter our life in one way or another. All of us are called to love, conducting ourselves in such a way that we can be conduits of God’s love, extending it to one another.
In addition to our words and deeds, Saint Benedict is clear that we must cultivate a deep interior life, realizing that we are a work in progress, but also always in the presence of God, rain or shine. Attentiveness to the Lord by full participation in the Liturgy of the Church (Mass and the Divine Office), praying in secret, doing lectio divina, are crucial for a life that is centered on Christ.
Communion with the Lord whenever and however we can promote it, for ourselves and one another, is really what the life is all about. Without any specific or rigid doctrine of prayer, Saint Benedict nonetheless encourages that the desire for God increase within us, day by day, year by year. But there is definitely a Benedictine spirituality presented by Saint Benedict; namely, the love of learning and the desire for God, as the late Benedictine scholar Dom Jean Leclercq expressed the notion.
It is a high purpose for which we have come to the monastery, to be partakers of God’s Kingdom, beginning even now in this life, and fully realized in the life to come.
Saint Paul expresses well what should be our aspirations, writing near the end of his letter to the Galatians: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule.”
As we commemorate today our holy Father Saint Benedict, may we all receive the grace to experience in our hearts the inexpressible sweetness of God’s love, which Saint Benedict highly recommends, for our eternal benefit.
Greetings and prayers to all our families and friends on this great day commemorating Saint Benedict.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB