Saint Benedict Leaves his home in Rome
Father of Western Monasticism, Mystic, Prophet,
Founder of the Benedictine Order
We are in the Fifth Century and God will, once again, raise up a Saint! Promising us, Hell would not prevail against His Church, God will bring to the front lines another great Soldier of Christ to aid Mother Church. We find ourselves in Italy, high in the mountains, on the way to Spoleto and Cascia, home of St. Rita - Saint of the Impossible. How very many times, we have passed the sign to Norcia and said, One day, we will write, and make a television program, about St. Benedict. Years later, here we are, enthralled by this Saint, about whom we knew virtually nothing except the devotion of those who wear his cross (or medal) around their necks. Saint Benedict has been calling out to us for years, not only pulling at our hearts to stop in Norcia, but as well every time we would see signs pointing to Monte Cassino on the way to the south of Italy.
The Fifth Century brings us not one but two future Saints.
It is 480 A.D. and a little voice cries out, Here I am world! But no sooner heard, than another tiny cry fills the air. Not one, but two babies will be born to the parents of the future Saints Benedict and his twin sister Scholastica. Now, Norcia is not easy to get to, as we well know. We often wonder why God chooses the most remote places in the world for apparitions by Mother Mary, by the Archangel Michael, for Miracles of the Eucharist and the birth of great Saints. Could it be, because we are too busy to hear or see God working in our midst? I don’t know. What do you think?
Born of the nobility, Saint Benedict would have every advantage enabling him to receive the best education and preparation for life. It is believed that when he was no more than in his teens, his parents sent Saint Benedict and his nurse to Rome, to pursue a higher education, more than likely majoring in law. As they had been blessed to be born of the nobility, it was the custom of people of their station to send their sons to acquire an education preparing them for a career as public magistrates or judges, in this way fulfilling their God-given obligations to serve.
Now Rome of his day had become nothing but a barbaric cesspool, filled with pagan tribes, who had invaded her shores, spreading heresy and immoral behavior the likes of which was leading to a widespread depraved and decadent culture infecting all, but especially the intelligentsia, as usual the students.
As goes the world, sadly, often follows the Church. Poor Mother Church was reeling from the attacks within and without - with schisms threatening to tear down all that the Early Church Fathers had built. Immoral and amoral behavior soon became the accepted norm of the day with Christians accepting and adopting the culture of the hordes of heathens who had stormed their land. With permissiveness, war and rampant widespread plundering are sure to follow. There was not a ruler or king who was not either a pagan, or an atheist, or a heretic.
Saint Benedict Leaves his home in Rome
Holiness begets holiness, as well as sin begets sin. As sheep willingly follow a goat to slaughter, so it was with this scourge which covered society. It was such a deadly epidemic no one was exempt from its poisonous infection. The wholesale evil and totally immoral behavior of the parents soon cascaded down to the youth, who willing followed and consequently mimicked their example. By the grace of God, the young Benedict was repulsed by all the evil and scandalous behavior he could see permeating not only Rome, but the schools. Not prideful, and totally devoid of the brash opinion of youth, and society as well, that they can handle anything, Benedict made the decision to leave Rome. The only one he told was his nurse, who accompanied him.
Whereas in immoral behavior the sinner is aware of the difference of right and wrong and commits the sin anyway, in amoral behavior the sinner is unable to distinguish between right and wrong. He would be someone totally without principals.
Paganism is a broad term which includes all religious beliefs, practices and systems with the exception of Christianity, Judaism, and Mohammedanism. It is thus applied to those who do not recognize a Supreme Being, the Monotheistic or Trinitarian God-oriented religions that have developed from the revelations of God and are carried through the fulfillment of the mission given by Christ to His Church. - The Catholic Encyclopedia by Broderick
One who believes that God does not exist. Atheism can be a denial of God or the substitution of a lesser object in place of God. Moral Atheism holds that human acts have no morality with reference to the Divine Lawgiver; this is sometimes called particle atheism. - The Catholic Encyclopedia by Broderick
A baptized and professed person who denies or doubts a truth revealed by God or proposed for belief by the Catholic Church is a heretic. - ibid
A goat which leads sheep to slaughter is called a Judas goat.
The path was clear for him. Having completed all that higher education of his day could offer, he left behind his books; and rejecting all the trappings of the world, his parents’ wealth and comforts of home and estate, departed for a life centered in God. It is fairly certain Benedict left Rome at age twenty, as he was mature enough to discern the decadency and immorality of his friends and class mates.
First small step to a holy life
Benedict and his nurse made their way to Affile, a small town deep into the mountains, about thirty miles from Rome. There he would start a new life, with possibly others who desired a life centered in God. This was not to be. Try as he may, he soon realized he could not achieve here the closeness with God he so dearly desired. Leaving the temptations of Rome had not been enough. If he was to know God, he would have to lead a solitary life - away from the world.
The First Miracle
The anonymity he so desperately sought was not to be his in this small village, especially once he miraculously mended an earthenware vessel, which his nurse had borrowed and broken. He pleaded with her to not share the miraculous happenings. Did she comply? No! She went about the village broadcasting the miracle that had come about. The locals even put up a sign on the church, detailing the miracle and the young man who had brought it about. Enough said, that was to be the end of any possible inner peace and quiet meditative reflection he could hope for. The only way was to leave Affile and any friends he had made there, sympatico as they might have been. He found he could no longer have the comfort of having his pious nurse with him. He made the decision to make it alone, with only God as his Comfort and Shield.
New home - new beginnings - life as a hermit, at last.
Now completely alone, Benedict scaled hills upon hills until he arrived at the shaggy, rocky rough-hewn mountains of Subiaco. (Till today, the mountains are steep and more than a little challenging to ascend.) At last, a hermitage where he could find some peace and solitude! But how? As God would have it, Benedict came upon a monk named Romanus. He poured his heart out to the monk, sharing his deep desire to live a hermit’s life. Although the monk lived in a monastery quite a distance away, he, without hesitating, dressed Benedict in sheepskins and escorted the youth to a cave in the mountains. Benedict desired to be alone. Well, here in this cave, removed from all civilization, he would know the quiet and solitary life, for which he so hungered. His cave, with its flat, sharp, jagged rock as a roof, made access to him from on top of the cave impossible. And should one attempt to approach the cave from below, the sharp climb to the cave was made hazardous by unscalable cliffs, thick brush, and a forest dense with trees obscuring it further.
Alone and solitary, prayer his loving companion, living this very austere life, his only human contact with anyone was the monk Romanus, who brought him a little sustenance each day. Benedict would recover it from a rope lowered down the steep slope by Romanus; upon which the monk placed a small ration of bread. Benedict was completely content. He had read about Anthony the Abbot and other Desert Fathers, and although he was still a young man, he desired this life more than anything on earth. His desert life went on for three years.
Evidently, it was not the Will of God that Benedict keep the light he had found, hidden under a bushel basket, but was to now use this light to bring light into a very dark world. One day his solitude was interrupted by a priest, who had sought out Benedict and the cave. If you doubt God had a hand in this, it appears, while the priest was preparing his Easter meal, he heard a voice say, “You are preparing yourself a savoury dish while my servant Benedict is afflicted with hunger.” Without taking a morsel of food to eat, the priest immediately left, food in hand, to find Benedict. After an arduous struggle through every physical obstacle possible, the priest finally came upon Benedict. To the delight of Benedict, the priest and Benedict engaged in excited sharing on God and His Heavenly Family. After quite a little time passed, the priest laid out the food and invited Benedict to share his meal, insisting that since it was Easter it would be not be proper for him to fast. Benedict thanked the priest, and told him he had no way of knowing what day it was, and consequently was not aware it was Easter. Whereupon, they sat down together and ate the meal, giving all praise to God the Father.
Seeing God’s Hand, in all this, it would appear his time alone in a cave was coming to an end, when a group of shepherds appeared. At first, because Benedict was living in a cave uninhabitable for a human being and because he was dressed in the skins of animals, the shepherds took him for an animal. When he opened his mouth and began to speak of God and heavenly things, they not only realized he was human, but a very holy human. Never had they heard anyone speak as he did and they were enthralled. Because you cannot keep a light hidden, soon the light reached others, who then came seeking spiritual food from Benedict. As they believed that a preacher is worth his keep, they brought Benedict food. But he took only as little as he could possibly take, without offending them.