“St. Benedict . . . found the world, physical and social, in ruins, and his mission was to restore it in the way, not of science, but of nature . . . not pretending to do so at one time precise or by a specific rare or by a series of strokes, but so quietly, patiently, gradually… Silent men were observed in the country, or discovered in the forest, digging, clearing and building; and other men silent, unseen, sat in the cold cloister, straining their eyes, and keeping their attention on the stretch, as they painfully deciphered, copied, and recopied the manuscripts they had saved. there was no one “challenging or shouting” or calling attention to what was going on; but gradually the wooded swamp became a hermitage, a religious house, a farm, an abbey, a village, a seminary, a school of learning and a city…
“And then, when they had won through many years their peaceful victories, perhaps a new invader came, and with fire and sword undid their slow and persevering labor in an hour . . . and there was nothing left for them but to start all over again; but they did it without resentment, so promptly, joyfully and quietly, as if it were by some law of nature that the restoration came, and they were like the flowers, the shrubs and the fruit trees which they raised, and which, when sick, treated, do not revenge, do not remember the evil, but give branches, leaves or fresh flowers, perhaps in greater profusion and with a richer quality, for the simple reason that the old ones have been roughly broken.
– From historical sketches, John Henry Newman
Saint Benedict (480-547) lived during the collapse of the Roman Empire. The most powerful political entity in world history, Rome and its sweeping reach from Britain to Asia has crumbled due to corruption from within and invasions from without.
Those who lived through this turbulence must have felt that the world was coming to an end, or at least the political, cultural and economic foundations of their society.
Benedict, the son of a nobleman from Umbria, abandoned his life of study in Rome because of the moral darkness he encountered there and eventually became a hermit in a cave near Subiaco.
He did not set out to change the world, only himself, seeking the Lord in a life of prayer, solitude and mortification.
Gradually other like-minded Christians joined him and Benedict became the father of Western monasticism, writing his famous Rule and building the famous monastery of Monte Cassino.
St. John Newman’s first quote speaks eloquently of the transformative power of Catholic monasticism during the “Dark Ages.”
As civilization collapsed around them, monks and nuns evangelized the people, rescued the ancient knowledge of Greece and Rome, and developed agriculture, architecture, philosophy, theology, medicine and education.
They were shining lights in a time of political chaos, cultural decay, unbridled violence and empire collapse.
Quietly, with perseverance and efficiency, monks and nuns rebuilt civilization on the fundamental principles of Christianity, establishing universities and hospitals, caring for the poor and sick, developing Christian understanding of human dignity, improving the world as they found it, with hearts. and minds set on God and the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our task today
Recently I attended a catechetical conference at Franciscan University and heard Dr. Petroc Willey proclaim the quote with which I began this column.
He suggested that the task of monasticism in the days of St. Benedict is in fact our task today, as Catholics living in the West in the 21st century.
As we witness the growth of radical secularism, increased anti-Christianity and anti-Catholicism, the erosion of moral values, the challenges of marriage and family, and the adoption of With flawed human anthropology, we can feel like those who witnessed the collapse of the Roman Empire.
Our culture, our country and our world as we have understood and experienced them are undergoing profound change. Everything can seem to fall apart.
This critical hour demands of us the same basic response, which St. Benedict and his followers embraced.
Like them, Christ calls us to quietly and courageously rebuild culture and society by seeking holiness, strengthening marriages and families, catechizing the Faith to young people, living the social teachings of the Church, caring of the poor and vulnerable and rebuilding a civilization. of life and love.
We can either wring our hands in fear and anxiety about the state of the world, or we can open our hands to embrace the opportunities that come our way, working to deepen the Kingdom of God among us.
We are to be apostles, saints and prophets, giving our lives and our hearts to the great task of living the gospel of Jesus Christ.