Father of Western monasticism – Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict was born in the small Italian town of Nursia around 470.  He was sent to Rome for school as a young boy.  Student life was more fun than studying.  Benedict realized if he wasn’t going to be pulled into the partying, he was going to have to leave Rome.  

Benedict and an elderly family member left Rome and went to the small village of Enfide.  They stayed for a short time when he worked a miracle for her.  This was the first of many miracles Benedict did.  When the people of Enfide heard of the miracle, crowds of people began to visit him.  

Benedict decided he needed to move.  This time he went alone higher into the mountains.  There were a few monks that lived in the area.  One of them helped Benedict move into a cave high in the wall of a cliff, where he stayed for the next three years.  His only contact with people was with the friendly monk who lowered food to him in a basket.  

During this time Benedict spent his time in prayer and penance. It was difficult for him because he was tempted to return to all that the world had to offer.  At the end of three years, Benedict decided God wished him to continue living in solitude as a monk.  Benedict was able to continue living as a monk, but not alone.  

Monks from a nearby monastery, heard of Benedict when their abbot died.  The head of a monastery is an abbot. They sent people to ask Benedict to be their new abbot.  Benedict agreed.  When he arrived he began to make some much needed changed.  This caused problems. Most of the monks had enjoyed their life of not living holy. They decided they didn’t want the young abbot’s changes.  One evening poison was put in Benedict’s cup of wine.  When Benedict make his usual sign of the cross over the cup it shattered.  Benedict told the monks to find a different abbot. He left the monastery and returned to his cave.

Living alone was now impossible for him. His reputation became known and crowds of people came to see him. Most were people who wanted to leave a Christian life, in a world where most people had little use for Christianity. Benedict saw these men needing guidance and agreed to again leave his cave to become their leader.  He founded twelve monasteries. A monastery is where a group of monks live.

He realized that something different was needed from the type of monastery which was popular. Monks had no common life. They tried to outdo each other with their penances and wandered around from monastery to monastery. Benedict created a life centered around a common task, chanting the Opus Dei, which is also called the Divine Office. They also spent their times working, privately praying and doing reasonable forms of penance.

Benedict wrote regulations for monastic life in his Rule. This became one of the most important documents in the history of Europe. The main idea of this is to pray and work. European civilization was largely preserved through the work of Christian monks who had Benedict at their spiritual director.

Benedict died not long after the last visit with his sister Saint Scholastica. He died of a fever on March 21, 543. He is the patron saint of Europe and students.

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