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St. Benedict of Nursia, the founder of Western Monasticism

Homily given at St Vincent's Catholic Church, Ashfield

Most Rev. Julian Porteous, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney
11 Jul 2009

You may have heard of Chuck Colson – the advisor to Richard Nixon who was convicted over Watergate and sent to prison. There in prison he experienced a conversion to Christian faith and has become a great advocate of Christian truth.

He wrote one book that inspired me. It is called “Against the Night”, and it is a strong indictment of the direction that Western civilisation is taking. He proposes the need for the West to rediscover its Christian roots. Towards the end of the book he speaks of how through Benedictine monasticism Christian civilisation was able to survive the Dark Ages. He says, "Instead of conforming to the barbarian culture of the Dark Ages, the medieval church modelled a counterculture to a world engulfed by destruction and confusion. Thousands of monastic orders spread across Europe … these religious provided attractive models of communities of caring and character …" (p. 132)

Monastic communities not only preserved Christian faith and lived a full spiritual life, but they were instruments of preserving culture itself and being a resource for building Christendom in the period after the Dark Ages.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger chose the name Benedict with this awareness in mind when he was chosen the 265th Pope in April 2005. He was very conscious that European civilisation build on Catholic faith is in grave danger at the present time. There is a new Dark Age threatening! This has been one of the key themes of his teaching over the years.
We honour St Benedict as the Father of Western Monasticism. It was his horror of life in Rome that led him to the hills at Subiaco where he spent time in prayerful isolation to emerge as the one who would form a way of life for monks that would dominate the Catholic Church for a thousand years, and still live on today.

Cardinal Ratzinger used to visit the monastery at Subiaco as a place for retreat and it was from that monastery that he was called when Pope John Paul was dying.
St Benedict with his simple and yet deeply wise balance of prayer and work established a way of life which he described as a “school for God’s service”. This life enabled the monk not only to grow in personal holiness but also to be formed in human character. A love of learning came to characterise Benedictine monastic life. They were the founders of schools and ultimately universities. They meticulously copied manuscripts which preserved and handed on learning and culture.

They fostered a natural and healthy Christian humanism. They understood that a life of faith and a desire for learning leads to wisdom and the rounding of character.
This is reflected in the opening words of the first reading this morning: “My son, if you take my words to heart, if you set store by my commandments, tuning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to truth” then you will come to know God, the author says, and “you will understand what virtue is, justice and fair dealing, all paths that lead to happiness”.

I would propose to you today: if you allow God to take more and more possession of your heart you will be lead in the ways of truth as the Spirit will enlighten your mind. As the Lord says, “you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”. Allowing God to reveal his truth to us and allowing the Holy Spirit to enlighten our minds will lead us down paths of light which will enable us to find freedom and happiness.

Let us turn to St Benedict today and ask his intercession for the Church of our time, and for each of us attending this Conference today, that we will be lead down the paths of truth, we will come to wisdom and find true happiness.


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