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Fulgens Radiatur: St Benedict's Brilliance

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

Bread & Wine

by Margaux Salcedo

Written on the Feast of St Benedict

July 11, 2020

Manila, Philippines

From the time quarantine was imposed, believe it or not I have not opened my Netflix app. I have not watched a single K-Drama or Netflix series.

Instead - I'm a little embarrassed to admit this - I've been reading papal encyclicals. I wasn't inclined to share this guilty pleasure but today I am moved to share with you my favorite encyclical thus far: Fulgens Radiatur, the encyclical of Pope Pius XII (currently my favorite writer among the Popes) on St. Benedict.

For two reasons: First, today is St. Benedict's Feast Day. I am, after all, a daughter of St Benedict, having studied in St. Scholastica's College Manila for elementary and high school, and having taught albeit briefly for their college. Second, there is a tragic incident mentioned in the encyclical that relates to the fire that happened in Pandacan Church yesterday (a fire burned down the Sto Nino de Pandacan Parish on July 10 at around 1:00 p.m.; no injuries reported although the church interiors have become charcoal black and as of this writing, the Sto Nino has not been found).

Rebuilding Monte Cassino; Rebuilding Sto Niño de Pandacan

While the encyclical is a tribute to St Benedict, it was also written by Pope Pius XII to address the tragic destruction of Monte Cassino, where you will find the abbey, the head house of the Benedictine Order, built by St Benedict himself around 529.

Pope Pius XII wrote: "When the recent war (World War II) was raging and spread in a lamentable way to the shores of Campania and Latium, it reached ... the holy summit of Monte Cassino ... ruin and destruction came to that illustrious home of learning and piety which had survived the turmoil of centuries like a torch conquering darkness. ... Practically nothing else survived from the destruction except the sacred crypt in which the relics of the holy Patriarch are preciously kept."  For historical perspective: Monte Cassino was bombed during World War II by Allied forces under incorrect estimation and suspicion that the abbey was being used as a German artillery observation point (it wasn't). The bombing mission started in the morning of February 15, 1944, and 1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs were dropped on the abbey, reducing the entire top of Monte Cassino to a smoking mass of rubble. The town of Cassino was completely razed by the air and artillery bombardments, especially by the air raid of March 15, 1944, when 1,250 tons of bombs were dropped on the town. 

Aftermath of the bombing of Monte Cassino

The way that Pope Pius XII grieved for the abbey in this encyclical reminded me of all the weeping that echoed across parishes yesterday as photos of the fire that razed Sto Nino de Pandacan were shared on social media.

Aftermath of the fire at Sto Nino de Pandacan Parish

So I would like to highlight the words of encouragement that Pope Pius XII pronounced at the end of the Fulgens Radiatur: "At the present time crumbling walls and rubble ... stand where lofty monuments once met one's gaze ... But why may the hope not be expressed ... why may it not be hoped that with the help of all and especially the rich and generous, this very ancient Arch-Abbey be restored as soon as possible to its pristine glory? This indeed humanity owes Benedict; for if today it glories in great learning, if it rejoices in ancient literary documents, it must mainly thank him and his hard working sons. We confidently trust, therefore, that the future will happily realize Our hope and Our wishes. May this work be not only a task of restoration and reparation but also an omen of better times in which the spirit of the Benedictine Institute and its ever opportune teaching may flourish more and more." (n. 32) Does it not resonate with Friday's destruction of the Sto Nino de Pandacan Church? Pope Pius XII prayed for the abbey's restoration and said that humanity owes Benedict that the abbey be restored asap to its pristine glory; likewise, the community of Pandacan Church owes it to the Sto Nino, the spirit of the Child Jesus that had guided and protected devotees for centuries, to likewise restore the church to its rightful glory asap, and Bishop Pabillo in his message yesterday asked for prayers for this. Pope Pius XII's prayer for Monte Cassino - that this be "not only a task of restoration and reparation but also an omen of better times" - is likewise our prayer for Sto Nino de Pandacan today.

Benedictine Virtues However, as you know, Venerable Brethren (as Pope Pius XII says), it is not only the Sto Niño Church that must be rebuilt. We need to rebuild the whole country today as the wounds of the nation run deep on a wide array of issues of which I will just assume you are well aware. This is where this encyclical further enlightens us. It shares the message that if we would only go back and uphold the virtues proclaimed and practiced by St Benedict, we have hope and we can heal. Pope Pius XII wrote: "... all classes of society, if they studiously and seriously examine the life, teaching and glorious achievements of St. Benedict, cannot but fall under the influence of his gentle but powerful inspiration; indeed they will spontaneously recognize that even our age troubled and anxious for the vast material and moral ruins, perils and losses that have been heaped up, can borrow from him the needed remedies.

He added: "If these norms, in virtue of which Benedict once illumined saved and built up the society of those turbulent times which was crumbling and even lead it back to better ways, be accepted and honored universally today, then no doubt our age will be able to come safe from its terrifying shipwreck, make up its losses material and spiritual and adequately remedy its deep wounds." (Fulgens Radiatur, n. 28) What are these lessons and virtues? First, religion is essential as the foundation of society. Without religion, turmoil and confusion follow. Pope Pius XII wrote: "Remember and consider that the sacred principles of religion and its norms of conduct are the safest and soundest foundations of human society; if they are disregarded and compromised, everything that promotes order, peace and prosperity among men and nations, as an almost necessary consequence, gradually collapses ... when holiness and religion are removed, there follows a life of turmoil and great confusion". (FR, n. 25)

Second, religion cannot only be an outward act (pakitang tao) but must be obeyed in one's private life as well: "It is of first and primary importance that the supreme Deity be reverenced and His holy laws obeyed in private and in public life; otherwise, there is no human power capable of checking and keeping under due control the unleashed passions of peoples. Religion alone provides the support for what is right and honorable." (FR, n. 26) Third - and this is truly the ideal world - an ardent love for God will result in fraternal charity towards our neighbors that will result in a single, harmonious Christian family. Pope Pius XII so beautifully explained: "God is not only to be honored and adored but must be loved as a Father with great charity. ... it is our strict duty to love Him ardently and to direct and give ourselves and all we have to Him. From this divine love fraternal charity towards our neighbor should arise, which will lead us to consider all as brothers in Christ of whatever stock or nation or culture. Thus from all nations and from all the classes of a country there will arise a single Christian family whose members will not be divided by exaggerated personal interests but will cooperate with each other harmoniously and in friendly wise." (n. 27) Isn't that so beautiful? A world where everyone honors God and because of this love for God, love for neighbor resonates as well, and the love for neighbor is so great that we all become one big Christian family? Fourth, it appears St Benedict, truly following in the footsteps of Christ, fought against racism and inequality. Pope Pius XII narrated: "To the holy monasteries flocked aspirants from every race and people and from all classes of citizens: Romans and non-Romans, freemen and slaves, conquered and the conquerors, from the patrician nobility not a few, and also from the lowly plebians. Such a situation Benedict mastered with breadth of vision and fraternal charity, "because" as he says "whether bondman or freeman, we are all one in Christ, and bear an equal burden of servitude under one Lord. . . Therefore let there be a love for all; let all be subject to the same discipline according to their desert"." (n. 17) He also fought against discrimination, welcoming everyone who knocked as if he were Christ. Pope Pius XII shared: "Benedict proclaims these most holy precepts to his followers: "Let special care be taken in receiving the poor and travelers, because in them Christ is more surely received".[37] "Let all guests who come to the monastery be entertained like Christ Himself, because He will say 'I was a stranger and you took me in'." (n. 20) Fifth, he also advocated dignity in labor. In the exceptional words of Pope Pius XII: "human labor is not without dignity; is not a distasteful and burdensome thing, but rather something to be esteemed, an honor and a joy. A busy life, whether employed in the fields, in the profitable trades or in the liberal arts does not demean the mind but elevates it; does not reduce it to slavery but more truly gives it a certain mastery and power of direction over even the most difficult circumstances. Even Jesus, as a youth, still sheltered within the domestic walls, did not disdain to ply the carpenter's trade in his foster father's workshop; He wished to consecrate human toil with divine sweat. Let those therefore who labor in trades as well as those who are busy in the pursuit of literature and learning remember that they are performing a most noble task in winning their daily bread; they are not only providing for themselves and their best interests but can be of service to the entire community." (n. 29) Finally, for my own personal growth, this particular line resonated with me: "It is essential in the Benedictine way of life that while engaged in manual or intellectual pursuits, all should strive continually to lift their hearts to Christ having that as their chief concern, and to burn with perfect love of Him." (n. 19)

Fulgens Radiatur: Brilliantly Shine

But Fulgens Radiatur - translated means 'Brilliantly Shine' - is more than a tribute to the Father of Western Monasticism and more than words of encouragement in light of the tragic destruction of Monte Cassino.

It was and is a reminder to all that in the darkness of night - in times of war like World War II that was the backdrop for this encyclical, in times of tragedy, in times of uncertainty such as now when we face not only a global health pandemic but also political, economic, even territorial uncertainties that stir our security and make us fear for own health, welfare and even freedom  - in these times of darkness, God is with us.

Pope Pius XII assures us: "[W]hen everything seems to be tottering with no hope of human support, it is then that Christ is present, bondsman, comforter, source of supernatural power, and raises up fresh champions to protect Catholicism, to restore it to its former vigor, and give it even greater increase under the inspiration and help of heavenly grace." (n. 1)

God sends us "champions of the Church" like St. Benedict who "like a star in the darkness of the night ... brilliantly shines, a glory not only to Italy but of the whole Church." These champions remind us of "the divine promise" which Christ made to the Apostles: 'I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world'. He is here, he is with us!

Pope Pius XII here bravely reminded those who sought to destroy the Catholic Church that they cannot succeed because earthly institutions - even one as great as the Roman Empire - are based only on human wisdom and human power and will therefore crumble. Whereas "the organization which Our Redeemer established has received from its divine Founder unfailing life and abiding strength from on high" and therefore "the Church comes out victorious through the hostile fortunes of time and circumstances".

So this encyclical is a tribute to St Benedict but it was also a forceful message against those who at the time were trying to bring the Catholic Church down not to mess with the Church. At the same time it was a message not only of hope but of encouragement and empowerment to Catholics that the light of Christ, no matter how dark the night, will never wane. And it will not only "radiatur" (shine), it will fulgens radiatur (shine brightly).

God's Champion

The Catholic Church did survive the challenges of Pope Pius XII's time, as he proclaimed it would.

And as for Monte Cassino? I checked. The Abbey was rebuilt after the war and Pope Paul VI reconsecrated it in 1964.

Today it continues to shine brightly - Fulgens Radiatur - "like a star in the darkness of night" atop the same mountain that was bombed during World War II.  

Monte Cassino today

This is an inspiring call to "follow daily ever more closely in (St Benedict's) illustrious footsteps" and "let each reduce to the practice of ordinary life the principles and example of his virtue and sanctity". (n. 24)

And for our team here at Dominus Est, let us heed the words in n. 22 of the encyclical: shine forth like the members of the Benedictine order by sparing no effort in attaining Evangelical perfection!

It's a tough act for sure but with God's grace - pray for it and let it! - like St Benedict, we need to let the light of Christ shine brightly within us as well. Strive to embody these virtues because who knows, you might be today's Benedict: God's champion for this generation to make the world a better place!

Read the full text of Fulgens Radiatur here:

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