Vir Dei Benedictus, so we sing in today’s liturgy. Benedict was indeed a man of God, a man sent by God, a man intent on God, a man whose whole life was about and for God. And this is perhaps the first thing Benedict has to teach the world today. There is a God who created us and who made us for himself. Benedict, still quite young, understood this well. He left everything for it, and it is what he teaches his disciples. God alone is great, and God alone is worth dedicating our entire life to.
St Gregory also tells us, in a text we meditated on last Sunday, that Benedict “habitabat secum - he lived with himself”. But what does it really mean to live with oneself? Or rather, what is “oneself”? So many people imagine they are living for themselves when they really have not succeeded in knowing who they are. There are a number of layers under which our real self is hidden, and our asceticism is meant to roll back those layers, one by one, opening access to our heart of hearts, where God awaits us.
St Benedict did that work on himself during those three years in the cave in Subiaco. Far from the world, its noise and distractions, he allowed himself to be purified by the ray of the Divine Light, and emerged a new man, one who could take on the conversion of the world. Living in himself, he found himself, and became a pathfinder for generations of sons and daughters.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that the following of Christ entails the leaving behind not only of self but of all created persons and things. The Lord enumerates father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, children, field, house, etc. The soul that wishes to go to God cannot allow anything or anyone to stand in the way. Everything must go. But in exchange, the Lord promises not only eternal life, but even the hundredfold already in this life. You leave one brother, you get a hundred others, you leave a bit of money and prosperity and all your needs are provided for. In St Mark’s account of this promise, he tells us that Our Lord also foretold that those who leave all things would received the hundredfold with persecutions. And we see that in the life of our holy Father. He is persecuted to the point of being nearly murdered on at least two occasions. Amazingly, the would-be murderers are not pagans, but monks, a neighbouring priest… Let’s not be surprised if we encounter opposition in our desire to serve God. The servant is not above his master. If Jesus was betrayed and crucified, if St Benedict had to take flight to save his own life, who could imagine himself beyond such persecution for the reason that he seeks to serve God? It’s actually the service of God that is the cause of the persecution, and monasteries that are built on the cross are the ones that last.
Today, my dear friends, the whole Church honours our Holy Father. We are honoured to be his sons and daughters. Let us address our prayers on this day to St Benedict, asking him to watch over this poor little flock of monks here in Tasmania. Our labours and pains, if they are made heavier by the criticism and rejection, even persecution, of some, are made lighter by the help of true friends who do not abandon us in the hour of difficulty.
Holy Father St Benedict, on this day we come before thee, before thy relic present on this altar of sacrifice, and we humbly ask that thou wouldst deign to recognise in our fledgling community thy true sons. We ask that thou wouldst not look upon our failings, our lack of virtue, our unworthiness, but only upon the great desire of our hearts, that desire by which we long to establish in this land a monastery that will last for ages, so that future generations of Tasmanians and Australians may discover here in all truth a place where God is sought and found, a place where prayer rises incessantly before the throne of the Almighty, to make reparation for the sins and ingratitude of so many, and console the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Holy Father, thou didst breathe forth thy soul after being fortified with the Bread of Angels, the most Holy Eucharist. Teach us to make of our lives a holocaust to the Divine Majesty and to find in the Most Blessed Sacrament the strength to walk with courage and perseverance to the Holy Mountain of God.