Today is the Memorial of Saint Benedict.
Benedict was born the son of a Roman nobleman in the city of Nursia (Norcia), Italy; and had a twin sister named Scholastica. When he was young, Benedict's family relocated to Rome, where he was well educated.
Around the year 500 AD, upset over the immoral environment of the city, Benedict left Rome, leaving behind both the wealth and status of his family. He had a strong desire to focus on God alone. Benedict settled about forty miles from the city of Rome in the town of Enfide (today, Affile). There, he joined with a group of very devout men. While in Enfide, Benedict miraculously restored an important wheat-sifter which one of his servants had accidentally broken. The people of the town saw this act as a genuine miracle and much attention fell upon Benedict, something he desperately sought to avoid.
Benedict fled Enfide and settled in a more remote part of Italy. There, he was determined to live in poverty and to provide for himself by the work of own hands.
One day Benedict met a monk named Romanus. Due to this monk's influence, Benedict became a hermit and committed himself to living a life of solitude in a nearby cave. Benedict lived three years of complete solitude in that cave, a solitude broken only by the occasional visits of Romanus. During these years of solitude, Benedict grew in great wisdom and godliness.
It is said that one day, while Benedict was living in this environment of holy seclusion, the Devil brought to Benedict's mind the picture of a beautiful woman he had once known. At this, his heart began to burn with a great desire for this woman. To conquer the temptation, Benedict took off his clothes and threw himself into a thorn bush; an act that effectively overcame his passion.
Eventually, a group of monks came to Benedict asking that he become the abbot of their monastery. Benedict agreed. Those monks, however, tried to kill Benedict by poisoning his drink. But it was not to be; for as Benedict prayed a blessing over the cup it shattered. Benedict, understanding the situation, departed the company of these wayward monks and returned to his cave. Another attempt on his life occurred when a nearby priest named Florentius, a man filled with great envy of Benedict, tried to kill the saint by sending him poisoned bread. Again, it was not to be; for as Benedict prayed a blessing over the bread a raven swept in and stole the loaf away!
About this time God began working great miracles through Benedict, something which attracted the attention of many people. And many men came to Benedict seeking to become monks under his leadership. Benedict received them and built twelve monasteries, in which he—in the pattern of Jesus and His disciples—placed in each one a superior with twelve monks. He then built another monastery where he himself lived with a group of monks (Monte Cassino, on a hilltop between Rome and Naples). Benedict, however, acted as the abbot over all thirteen monasteries. These monasteries, among performing other ministries, became schools for the children of the region.
Over the years, Benedict developed an order, or rule, for his monks to follow. And this Rule of Benedict had a tremendous influence on monasteries throughout the known world. His Rule had a spirit of balance, graciousness, moderation, and sound judgment, and thousands of religious communities founded throughout the Middle Ages adopted it. In fact, The Rule of St. Benedict is the most common Rule used by monasteries and monks today.
Benedict died at Monte Cassino in 543 AD. He was canonized in 1220 AD by Pope Honorius III, named patron protector of Europe by Pope Paul VI in 1964, and declared co-patron of Europe (with Saints Cyril and Methodius) in 1980 by Pope John Paul II.
St. Benedict, pray for us. St. Benedict, pray for Europe!
Christo et Ecclesiae,