by Clyde Ericson Nolasco
As a Benedictine grade school teacher, discussing St. Benedict’s life story is but a staple at the start of the year. And beyond details, names, places and dates attributed to our father Benedict, his life and works make him relevant even after 2000 years.
Tradition tells us that Benedict along with his sister Scholastica was born in Nursia, Italy around 480 AD. He is known for his motto “ora et labora,” which means prayer and work.
Benedict, Father of Monasticism | Photo from Catholic Online
All we know about Benedict is based on St. Gregory’s Dialogues likely written between 593-594 AD. Technically, as scholars would say, Pope Gregory the Great’s writing on Benedict cannot be considered a biography. It did not specify details; instead the holy Pope highlighted the saint in Benedict and hoped to inspire the readers with the latter's austere life and dedication to prayer.
Coming from a village in the high mountains, Benedict was sent by his parents to the city of Rome to continue his studies after finishing primary school in his hometown. It was the first time he was separated from his family, especially from his twin sister Scholastica. His nursemaid Cyrilla accompanied him to Rome who was also the witness of his first miracle, restoring to perfect condition a broken earthenware sieve.
The sinfulness and lewdness of the city of Rome disgusted the young saint. He then fled to a cave near Subiaco. There, he stayed and prayed for three years and was tended by a monk named Romanus. This monk helped the young saint to live the life of a hermit. Romanus provided Benedict with the habit along with the essential spiritual and material needs. He was the only contact of Benedict with the outside world.
From then on, the life of Benedict completely changed.
He is an influencer of Christ from the 6th century
After three solitary and prayerful years in the cave, some monks befriended him and began to follow his life and teachings. Though it was also said that he encountered wayward monks who tried to poison him, his desire to live a holy life did not stop. It even flourished into monasteries.
Aside from being the patron saint of Europe, he is also proclaimed as the Father of Monasticism. For the record, Christian monasticism started in Egypt, Palestine, and Asia Minor around three centuries before Benedict was born. Thus, he is not the founder but his teachings written in the “Rule” are so fruitful that many monasteries, even convents, would use it as their “way of life.”
With his overwhelming influence, twelve monasteries were founded under his name. Eventually, the thirteenth was built for novices and for those needing education. Later on, he moved to Monte Cassino, his premier monastery where the “Rule” was written and first used.
The Monte Cassino, St. Benedict's premier monastery | Photo from Trip Savvy
Maurus and Placid, cousins coming from illustrious families, were even entrusted to him because of his honorable reputation and fast-spreading fame. These two would be the first gems of the Benedictine order as they in time would be regarded as saints of our Church.
On the other hand, inspired by his twin brother’s newfound spirituality, Scholastica established the first "Benedictine" convent in Plumbariola, an area near Monte Cassino. Her “sisters” lived together like the monks following the principles of the monastic rule started by her brother Benedict.
His influence and inspiration continued as many Benedictines became canonized saints of our Church.
He has proven the power of prayers
Benedict’s wisdom of “ora et labora” became the brand of his order. He encouraged one to have a balanced life of prayer and work. It became a way of life and a spirituality for others. Benedict’s life became a testament of the moving power of prayers.
Many miracles were attributed to Benedict proving his holiness and profound relationship with God. As mentioned already, his first was restoring a broken sieve.
By simply doing the sign of the cross over a pitcher of poisoned wine, Benedict broke it into pieces thus stopping an attempt to poison him. It was also believed that he can read other persons’ minds. Also, there was an anecdote where he was able to make waters flow from rocks to quench the thirst of his monks while on a desolate mountaintop.
One day, Placid went to the lake to draw water but he fell and was carried away by the current. While in his room, Benedict saw in his vision Placid’s situation. He called Maurus to help his cousin Placid. Receiving the order and blessing of their abbot, Maurus rushed to the lake. Maurus walked over water without noticing it and dragged his cousin by his hair. Maurus attributed this miracle to the command and prayers of Benedict.
Maurus, blessed by Benedict, saved Placid | Photo from Anastpaul.com
Also, it was noted that Benedict, as a human being, experienced temptation against chastity through an image of a woman that would not leave his memory. With the grace of God, Benedict without his apparel would throw himself into thick briers and nettle bushes. He instead would choose to struggle with pain rather than entertain the temptation.
In 547, his twin sister Scholastica passed away. Five miles away from her dying sister, Benedict saw Scholastica’s soul turn into a dove and fly to heaven. Days after, it was his time to join the Creator. He died in the midst of his monks.
The Holy Twins | Photo from Ora et Labora of SSC Manila Grade School
These lines from Ora et Labora, a stage play of St. Scholastica's College Manila Grade School Unit perfectly summarized the life of our father Benedict and his influence to the whole Church:
“Like a star in the darkness of night,
Benedict of Nursia, brilliantly shines,
a glory not only to Italy but to the whole church.
Behold our Benedict, blessed by name and grace-
Man of sacrifice. Man of prayer.
Flame lit by God.
In the darkness of a fallen empire.
In the providential designs of God
He emerged from a dark century.”
St. Benedict, pray for us!