Put Christ First

 W             henever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal         to Christ our Lord to bring it  to perfection; that he, who has honored us by counting us among his children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always serve him with the good things he has given us in such a way that he may never – as an angry father disinherits his sons or even like a master who inspires fear – grow impatient with our sins and consign us to everlasting punishment, like wicked servants who would not follow him to glory.

So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep. Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, and we should listen in wonderment to the message of the divine voice as it daily cries out: Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts; and again: If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. And what does the Spirit say? Come my sons, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. Hurry, while you have the light of life, so that death’s darkness may not overtake you.
And the Lord as he seeks the one who will do his work among the throng of people to whom he makes that appeal, says again: Which of you wants to live to the full; who loves long life and the enjoyment of prosperity? And, if when you hear this you say, I do, God says to you: If you desire true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceit; turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. And when you have done these things my eyes will be upon you and my ears will be attentive to your prayers; and before you call upon my name I shall say to you: Behold, I am here. What could be more delightful, dearest brothers, than the voice of our Lord’s invitation to us? In his loving kindness he reveals to us the way of life.

And so, girded with faith and the performance of good works, let us follow in his paths by the guidance of the Gospel; then we shall deserve to see him who has called us into his kingdom. If we wish to attain a dwelling-place in his kingdom we shall not reach it unless we hasten there by our good deeds.

Just as there exists an evil fervor, a bitter spirit, which divides us from God and leads us to hell, so there is a good fervour which sets us apart from evil inclinations and leads us toward God and eternal life. Monks should put this fervour into practice with an overflowing love: that is, they should surpass each other in mutual esteem, accept their weaknesses, either of body or of behaviour, with the utmost patience; and vie with each other in acceding to requests. No one should follow what he considers to be good for himself, but rather what seems good for another. They should display brotherly love in a chaste manner; fear God in a spirit of love; revere their abbot with a genuine and submissive affection. Let them put Christ before all else; and may he lead us all to everlasting life.

This excerpt from the Rule of St. Benedict (Prologue, 4-22; cap. 72, 1-12: CSEL 75, 2-5. 162-163) is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of Saint Benedict on July 11.

Benedict of Nursia, St.

Little is known of this humble man who became the Patriarch of Western Monasticism. Born in Nursia around 480AD, St. Benedict was educated in Rome. The decadence of Roman society of that time led Saint Benedict to withdraw to a quiet, mountainous area South of Rome called Subiaco where he lived in a cave, as a hermit. A community of hermits grew up around him and coalesced into twelve monasteries of twelve monks each, with abbots appointed by St. Benedict. Local jealousy led to an attempt on Saint Benedict’s life. And so, around 525 AD, St. Benedict moved with a small band of monks to Monte Cassino, between Rome and Naples, where Benedict remained till his death around 550AD. He was buried at Monte Cassino in the same grave as his sister, St. Scholastica. A generation or two after his death, a Benedictine monk ascended the throne of St. Peter and took the name Pope Gregory I, otherwise known as St. Gregory the Great. Pope St. Gregory wrote the only biography of St. Benedict from this period, and it forms part of St. Gregory’s Dialogues. It was at Monte Cassino that St. Benedict wrote his Rule or way of life, which brought order, stability, and moderation to the practice of monastic life. Because his Rule was so eminently reasonable and practical, it became the standard for nearly all monastic life in the Western Church until the time of Sts. Francis and Dominic. Monks following the rule of Benedict founded monasteries all over Europe from England to Germany and from Italy to Spain. The Crusaders even brought Benedictine life to the Holy Land. It was largely Benedictine monasteries that served as the exclusive centers of evangelization and Christian education throughout Europe for at least five centuries. And today it is not just Benedictine Monasteries that follow St. Benedict’s rule, but Cistercian and Trappist monasteries as well. Because of the role of his rule in Christianizing the entire West, he was named co-Patron of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964. The irony in this, of course, was that Saint Benedict apparently had no idea of this future impact. He was a simple man, leading other men to a simple life of prayer and work (Ora et Labora) which was their chosen path to holiness.