Solemnity of St Benedict
The twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis begins with the call of Abraham: “Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and magnify thy name, and thou shalt be blessed”. We Benedictines have always loved to apply this text to our illustrious founder. St Benedict was truly blessed “in grace and in name” to quote St Gregory. God made him into a great nation, giving him innumerable sons and daughters throughout the centuries.
On this his solemnity, it is good for us to reflect upon the source of so many graces, I mean to say, the answer to the call. Like Abraham, the young Benedict heard the call to leave all behind, to go out, to go into exile, to get away from all things and all people. At a tender age, he finds the courage to leave his parents and the brilliant career he could have pursued in Rome. It was not an easy life he was going to. The grotto in Subiaco is in the midst of an austere wilderness, still today, a true desert in the heart of Italy, a place where he knew he would have struggles and combats.
That going out, that exodus, from his home remains paradigmatic for all monks. Unless we leave behind cherished family, friends, lands, projects and ambitions, we cannot possibly be worthy sons of so great a patriarch. Such a going out is not done once and for all, for the attractions of the flesh remain. St Benedict would experience it first hand when the devil tried to allure him back to Rome with the memory of a woman. We would have not St Benedict had he succumbed to that temptation. He may have entered upon a successful marriage and begotten a number of children, but he would never have had the eternal posterity of so many monks and nuns to present to God. The world would never have had Cluny, Citeaux and the legions of other monasteries in which souls learned to serve the Lord.
The going out is not just a leaving behind family and worldly ties. More importantly, it is leaving behind oneself. It is going out of oneself, fighting to the death one’s passions and personal ambitions. Such is the warfare that St Benedict undertook when he left his home. Such is the warfare we are called to wage under his patronage.
Coming to Jerusalem/Colebrook is something like going to Subiaco. The young Benedict had no established monastery to go to. Everything had to be built from the foundations up. So it is that we apply to him the words of Holy Scripture concerning Simon the High Priest: “In his life he repaired the house, and in his time fortified the temple. He laid the foundations for the high double walls, the high retaining walls for the temple enclosure” (Sir 50:1-2). One of the dangers of a young foundation is to want to build too quickly an edifice whose foundations have not been sufficiently dug out. Our role in this historical conjuncture is to dig deep, to establish solid footings on which later can be built an edifice for the glory of God. And that we can only do if we are continually leaving ourselves behind.
What is the secret to such a life of continual self-denial and labour that goes unseen to the eyes of the world? St Benedict gives us a hint when he tells us “to prefer nothing to the love of Christ”. Such indeed is the motivation: the love of Christ. It is because he loved Christ that the young Benedict left the world and spent his life singing His praises. Like King David, “in all that he did he gave thanks to the Holy One, the Most High, with ascriptions of glory; he sang praise with all his heart and he loved his Maker. He placed singers before the altar, to make sweet melody with their voices. He gave beauty to the feasts, and arranged their times throughout the year while they praised God’s holy name, and the sanctuary resounded from early morning” (Sir 47:8-10).
Let us then, my dear Sons, rejoice to have such a wondrous founder. Let us turn to him this day with renewed fervour of mind and heart and beseech him to bless this tiny Tasmanian flock which places itself under his patronage. Let us implore him to fill us with all the virtues he practiced to an eminent degree, so that we too, and those who will come after us, may be found worthy to be among that “garland of brethren around him, surrounding him like the trunks of palm trees, all the sons of Aaron in their splendour” (Sir 50:12-13).