In the heat of the Arian crisis, when nearly the whole world, including the bishops, had fallen into heresy, faced with accusations that he was pitting himself against the whole world, St Athanasius proclaimed: “If the world is against the truth, then I am against the world”.
We might very well put those words too on the lips of the young St Benedict. St Gregory tells us that he left Rome and his studies because of the evil he saw there. He opposed the world because the world opposed the truth, and preferred to be inscienter nescius and sapienter indoctus, as St Gregory tells us – knowingly ignorant and wisely uninstructed.
If we push our reflexion further, however, we will see that both Athanasius and Benedict, by pitting themselves against the world, were actually coming to the world’s aid. Athanasius, by having the courage to oppose the mass of his brother bishops, traced out a path whereby future bishops would find the strength of soul to stand up for what is true, even against their own confreres, as we see together in the persons of great bishops such as Cardinal Muller, Cardinal Burke or Bishop Athanasius Schneider. Benedict for his part, by stepping out of the world into solitude, actually went straight to the heart of the world, that heart which was sick to death of its own pride, lust, avarice and violence. He seemed to run away, but actually he was coming to the rescue of the world, and his holy way of life became one of the foundation stones of the great European civilisation of the Middle Ages.
Both Athanasius and Benedict were filled with the holy zeal, which ch. 72 of the Rule tells us we must have: zeal for God, zeal for the good in all its forms: fraternal charity, hard work, obedience, poverty and chastity. Such are the practical means by which we can show our recalcitrant and desperate world a path for the future.
Young people today on almost any of our university campuses are exposed to similar and worse evils than those which pushed Benedict to the desert. Vying to “outwoke” each other in presenting theories which demonstrate only the ineptness of their inventors, they contribute to the collapse of our civilisation.
For us, sons of St Benedict, the recipe for reconstruction was given to us long ago by our holy founder. Let’s make use of it and be faithful ourselves to the call of being countercultural and saving the world from itself, from the inside. And for that, let us ever hold dear to our hearts that most important of his admonitions: Let them prefer nothing whatsoever to the love of Christ, and may He bring us all alike to life everlasting!