11 July 2011

The Two Benedicts

Today the Holy Father Benedict XVI celebrates his nameday when the Church observes the Memorial of Saint Benedict, the founder of western monasticism.

Shortly after his election to the See of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI explained why he chose to be called "Benedict":
I wanted to be called Benedict XVI in order to create a spiritual bond with Benedict XV, who steered the Church through the period of turmoil caused by the First World War. He was a courageous and authentic prophet of peace and strove with brave courage first of all to avert the tragedy of the war and then to limit its harmful consequences. Treading in his footsteps, I would like to place my ministry at the service of reconciliation and harmony between persons and peoples, since I am profoundly convinced that the great good of peace is first and foremost a gift of God, a precious but unfortunately fragile gift to pray for, safeguard and build up, day after day, with the help of all.

The name "Benedict" also calls to mind the extraordinary figure of the great "Patriarch of Western Monasticism", St Benedict of Norcia, Co-Patron of Europe together with Sts Cyril and Methodius, and the women Saints, Bridget of Sweden, Catherine of Siena and Edith Stein. The gradual expansion of the Benedictine Order that he founded had an enormous influence on the spread of Christianity across the Continent. St Benedict is therefore deeply venerated, also in Germany and particularly in Bavaria, my birthplace; he is a fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization.

We are familiar with the recommendation that this Father of Western Monasticism left to his monks in his Rule: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ" (Rule 72: 11; cf. 4: 21). At the beginning of my service as Successor of Peter, I ask St Benedict to help us keep Christ firmly at the heart of our lives. May Christ always have pride of place in our thoughts and in all our activities!
During his pilgrimage to Monte Cassino in 2009, home of the abbey founded by Saint Benedict and his final resting place, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the Abbot's lasting legacy in the Church and in the world (with my emphases):
Dear brothers and sisters, at this celebration we hear resonating St Benedict's appeal to keep our hearts fixed on Christ, to prefer nothing to him. This does not distract us, on the contrary it is an even greater incentive to build a society in which solidarity may be expressed by concrete signs. But how? Benedictine spirituality, well known to you, proposes an evangelical programme that is summed up in the motto: ora et labora et lege prayer, work and culture. First of all is prayer which is the most beautiful legacy that St Benedict bequeathed to the monks, but also to your particular Church: to your clergy, the majority of whom were trained at the Diocesan Seminary, for centuries housed in this same Abbey of Monte Cassino, to the seminarians, to the many people educated at the Benedictine schools and "recreation" centres and in your parishes, to all of you who live in this region. In lifting your gaze from every village and part of the diocese you can admire the Monastery of Monte Cassino, that constant reminder of Heaven, to which you climb every year in procession on the eve of Pentecost. Prayer, to which with its sonorous tolling the bell of St Benedict summons the monks every morning, is the silent path that leads us straight to God's Heart; it is the breath of the soul that restores peace to us in the storm of life. Furthermore, at the school of St Benedict, the monks have always cultivated a special love for the word of God in lectio divina, which today has become the common patrimony of many. I know that your diocesan Church, in adopting the guidelines of the Italian Bishops' Conference, takes great pains to acquire a deeper knowledge of the Bible and indeed has inaugurated a programme for the study of the Sacred Scriptures, this year dedicated to the Evangelist Mark, which will continue over the next four years and conclude, please God, with a diocesan pilgrimage to the Holy Land. May attentive listening to the divine word nourish your prayers and make you prophets of truth and love in a unanimous commitment to evangelization and human advancement.

Another pivot of Benedictine spirituality is work. Humanizing the working world is characteristic of the soul of monasticism and this is also an endeavour of your community that seeks to be beside the numerous workers in the large industry present at Cassino and in the businesses connected with it.

I know how critical the situation of many of the workers is. I express my solidarity to all those who are living in a worrying and precarious plight, to workers on redundancy pay or who have actually been discharged. May the wound of unemployment that afflicts this territory induce the public authorities, entrepreneurs and all who have means to seek, with the help of all, effective solutions to the employment crisis, creating employment in order to safeguard families. In this regard how can we forget that the family urgently needs better protection because this institution is dangerously threatened at its very roots? Then I am thinking of the young people who have difficulty in finding dignified work that will enable them to build a family. I would like to say to them: do not feel discouraged, dear friends, the Church does not abandon you! I know that at least 25 young people of your Diocese took part in the last World Youth Day in Sydney. In treasuring that extraordinary spiritual experience, may you be Gospel leaven among your friends and peers; with the power of the Holy Spirit, be new missionaries in this land of St Benedict!

Lastly, attention to the world of culture and education is part of your tradition. The famous Archives and Library of Monte Cassino contain innumerable testimonies of the commitment of men and women who meditated upon and sought ways to improve the spiritual and material life of human beings. In your Abbey the "quaerere Deum" is tangible, that is, it is possible to feel that European culture has consisted in the search for God and the readiness to listen to him and this also applies in our day. I know that you work with this same spirit in universities and schools so that they may become workshops of knowledge, research and enthusiasm for the future of the generations to come. I also know that in preparation for this Visit, you recently held a congress on the theme of education, to inspire in everyone a keen determination to pass on to the young the indispensable values of our human and Christian heritage. In today's cultural effort which aspires to creating a new humanism, faithful to the Benedictine tradition, you rightly intend also to pay attention to the frail or the weak, to the disabled and to immigrants. and I am grateful to you that you are giving me the opportunity to inaugurate on this very day the "House of Charity" at which a culture attentive to life is being built with deeds.
His Holiness has also devoted one of his Wednesday General Audience addresses to the life of Saint Benedict, which will be well worth you read on this his feastday.  In it, he urges us to "listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism."

Happy Name Day, Holy Father!

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