In about the year 500 a young man from a wealthy family in the town of Nursia in central Italy was sent to Rome to continue his studies. However, he was so appalled by the corruption and profligate life of the city at the time that he gave up academic work and went to live the life of a solitary hermit in nearby Subiaco. This did not suit him either and he accepted the invitation from a newly-formed community of monks to be their abbot. Monasteries were then just beginning to be established in the west having started in the Sinai peninsula a few years before. Unfortunately the new post did not work out either as some members of the community took such a dislike to their abbot that they tried to poison him. He managed to get away with a small band of loyal monks and founded a new community further north at Monte Cassino. It was there that he wrote his Rule for Monks – the Rule of St. Benedict. By the time he died on the 11th July around 560 this rule was widely followed by communities all over Europe and had become the model for western monasticism. It remains so to this day.
We often think of religious as being very austere, rather remote and unworldly people who have retreated away from everyday life. They are, in fact, people who are dedicated to prayer. They give up all they have – possessions, personal freedom – so as to pray in a community of some sort. That may seem unworldly but it is actually firmly rooted in the here and now because one needs a profound knowledge and understanding of humanity, and of the way of the world, to be able to pray for them. Benedict understood this and the Rule that he wrote over several years for his own community and which soon spread contains many insights into human nature and how we relate to God. It is uncompromising but very down to earth and realistic. So perceptive is it that many people, not just monks or nuns, aim to follow it and have found great help and support from it.
Most of us do not live in community but we do pray and we do live in a community. It is not easy sometimes to know what to pray for, or how or even when to pray as there are so many distractions and so many needs and challenges in our daily lives. The example of Benedict shows us that some sort of discipline is useful to help us in these problems. Most of all, though, he reminds us that prayer and the life of the Christian is all about living in the real world – of being aware of its cares and concerns as well as its joys and happiness and then bringing them all to God. And he is a God who listens, who understands and who answers.
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” Proverbs 2.6
“Almighty God, give us wisdom to perceive you, intellect to understand you, diligence to seek you, patience to wait for you, eyes to behold you, a heart to mediate upon you and life to proclaim you, through the power of the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen”
A prayer of St. Benedict.