The Life and Miracles of Saint Benedict
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.
Benedict moves on
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.
Benedict is besieged by temptations of the flesh and of the devil.
As he chose to live as the Desert Fathers lived before him, and as they had not been exempt from the attacks of the flesh and the devil, neither would he be. One such temptation, as described by St. Gregory was:
“On a certain day when he was alone, the tempter presented himself. For a small bird, commonly called a blackbird, began to fly around his face, and came so near to him that, if he wished, he could have seized it with his hand. But on his making the Sign of the Cross, the bird flew away. Then such a violent temptation of the flesh followed as he had never before experienced. The evil spirit brought before his imagination a certain woman he had formerly known, and inflamed his heart with such vehement desire at the memory of her that he had great difficulty in repressing it; and being almost overcome, he thought of leaving his solitude. Suddenly, by Divine Grace, he found the strength he needed, and seeing close by a thick growth of briars and nettles, he stripped off his garment and cast himself into the midst of them. There he rolled until his whole body was lacerated. Thus, through those bodily wounds he cured the wounds of his soul, and was never again troubled in the same way.”
The Miracle of the wine glass
Nestled in the cliffs of Vicovaro overlooking Anio, between Tivoli and Subiaco, dwelled a community of monks who had recently lost their Abbot. Hearing of Benedict and his fine work, teaching all who came to him, they decided to ask him if he would agree to become their Abbot. As probably their reputation preceded them, he tried to gently refuse, explaining that as his spirituality and theirs differed greatly, his life style could prove too stringent for them. They insisted they could be obedient, and so, touched by their pleading, he followed them to their habitat to begin his new life as their Abbot.
But it soon became evident that his strict code of discipline was too much for them, and rather than share that with him, they resorted to poisoning his wine. Now his custom was to make the Sign of the Cross over the jug, before pouring the wine. As he did so, the jug broke, shattering into many pieces. Realizing what had come to pass, Benedict turned to them without anger or vindictiveness, and said the prayer, which is inscribed, till this day, on the Cross of Benedict:
“Begone Satan! and suggest not to me thy vain things; the cup thou profferest me is evil; Drink thou thy poison.”
“God forgive you, brothers. Why have you plotted this wicked thing against me? Did I not tell you my customs would not be in accord with yours? Go and find an Abbot to your taste, for after this deed you can no longer keep me among you.”
Having said this, Benedict left to return to Subiaco - only not to the solitary life he had been living but to begin the walk God had been preparing for him those three years alone on the mountain.
The great work planned for him by God begins.
When word got out that Benedict had returned to Subiaco, brothers from all walks of life began to flock to him. Having heard of the miraculous occurrences and drawn by his godliness, not only monks leading solitary lives wildly scattered in the mountains, came, but those living in the world. Looking about him, at the faces of these men filled with hope, Benedict began to formulate the thoughts he’d had those three years, in the mountains, alone except for his God. His dream became to gather together holy monks from near and far, now living at individual, widely separated monasteries and provinces, and make of them one family in the Lord. He would endeavor to make them stronger and more united, binding them together as one brotherhood, in one house of the Lord, under one carefully formed Rule, rooted in the perpetual worship of God. Outlining this to all who came, he separated them into twelve groups of twelve, to reside in twelve simple wooden monasteries, each with its own superior. Benedict, as any good and wise father or founder would do, maintained control, supervising and teaching the dispersed twelve groups from his monastery. In addition, he took specially chosen monks, and personally instructed them, using the Word and his example, as their text books, preparing them for their mission with the community. He did as Jesus before him, when He took certain disciples away with Him, imparting on them special teaching.
Miracles continue to bloom and flower in Benedict’s life
The rich and the poor, Romans and citizens from far corners of Europe, flocked to Benedict. But again, like his Lord before him, he treated no one better than another. Regardless of position in life - peasant or prince, pauper or noble - all looked the same to Benedict, who quickly clothed them in the robes of a monk. So widespread became his reputation that parents began sending their sons to him to become educated.
St. Gregory tells of two Romans - the nobles Tertullus the patrician and Equitius, who brought their sons Placid, a seven year old child, and Maurus, who was all of twelve years old.
One of the Miracles that St. Gregory speaks of, concerning the two boys, is the day Placid was sent to fetch water from the lake. Leaning out too far to retrieve a pitcher of water, Placid fell into the lake. The current began to carry Placid farther and farther from the shore. At the same time, Benedict had a vision of Placid falling into the lake. Whereupon, he summoned Maurus and directed him to go and save Placid. Not able to swim, and without being aware what he was doing, Maurus walked on the surface of the water and dragged Placid, by the hair, out from the lake. He had not known he was walking on water, until he looked back, after arriving on shore. Maurus attributed the Miracle to the intercession of Benedict’s prayers. Whereas Benedict insisted the Miracle was due to Maurus’ unquestioning obedience. But Placid confirmed Maurus’ view on the Miracle: “When I was being pulled out of the water, I saw the father’s hood11 over my head, and I judged it was he who was getting me out.”12 Not long after, it is believed, Benedict retired to Monte Cassino,13taking Placid with him, leaving Maurus to take his place as Abbot. [St. Placid was later martyred and is celebrated in the Martyrology of the Saints.]
Their fathers entrusted the boys’ education to the holy Saint Benedict and they would one day be declared Saints. Saints beget Saints!
Not only the nobility, but one day a youth, an uneducated Goth,14 as rough hewn as the other youths were refined, came to St. Benedict asking to be admitted. St. Benedict did not hesitate. He joyfully dressed him in the habit of the monks, and put him to work. Sickle in hand, the young Goth set out to clear the underbrush surrounding the lake. So conscientious was he, working so vigorously, the iron head of the tool snapped off and flew into the lake. The young man was beside himself. But when he told St. Benedict, our Saint just took him by the hand and led him back to the lake. Asking for the stick upon which the head had been attached, Benedict proceeded to fling it into the lake. No sooner done, than the iron head rose up from the bottom of the lake and attached itself to the stick. Benedict returned the tool, now intact, to the Goth and said: “There, go on with your work and don’t be miserable.”
St. Benedict broke down all prejudices toward manual labor, requiring all who joined him to work and pray - the nobility as well as those of the lower class.
It is time for St. Benedict to move on, once more.
There are no records revealing just how long St. Benedict remained at Subiaco, but one thing is for sure, it was long enough to get the monasteries well established. Maybe the following can shed some light on his hasty departure. There was an envious priest who lived in the area, by the name of Florentius, who, lusting after the success St. Benedict was having, and all the people who flocked around him, drew up a plan to ruin him. He started by slandering him, spreading false rumors about him, and when that failed he tried to poison him with a loaf of bread laced with poison. St. Gregory states that only by the Miracle of a raven taking the bread and flying away with it, was St. Benedict spared.
The enemy of God who never sleeps then led Florentius to seduce Benedict’s monks by arranging for loose young women to dance semi-nude in the presence of the young monks. Realizing the attacks were aimed at him, and the fallen priest would not stop endangering the souls of the young monks, as long as he was there, St. Benedict decided to leave his beloved Subiaco. Bringing a few disciples with him, a sad but resolute Benedict left for the mountains of Monte Cassino. As for the priest Florentius, the devil always betraying his partners in crime, the balcony he was standing on, watching Benedict departing, collapsed and him with it. But Benedict did not turn back.
New challenges await St. Benedict.
What we see today, at Monte Cassino, was not what awaited Benedict and his companions. What was once a fertile landscape, due to years of attacks by the Goths and neglect by the natives, was now a slimy, dank, pesthole15riddled with malaria. The town had once been an important village, but having been destroyed and pillaged by the Goths, those inhabitants, who had remained or survived the assaults, had lapsed into paganism (if ever they had rejected it). Benedict, finding them worshipping idols in a temple dedicated to Apollo, high on the hills of Monte Cassino, immediately set out to fast for forty days. Then he began preaching to all who would listen; and listen they did; and before you knew it, what with the miracles they could see with their own eyes, the people of the village were converted to Christ and His message. Not only that, but they helped Benedict tear down and destroy the temple, along with its idols.
As it is and always has been with the Church, upon the ruins of the pagan temple, Benedict built two chapels. From them, would rise, building by building, the great and most famous Abbey the world has ever known. It is believed that Benedict arrived at Monte Casino in 529and laid the foundation of the original chapels some time around the year 530. The poet Marco wrote that Benedict built the long road to the Abbey, assisted by two Angels and accompanied by three ravens.
The first chapel, Benedict dedicated to St. Martin - Bishop of Tours - “Soldier Saint” of the 4th Century. Then Benedict built a small chapel dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The devil, aware of the good that was to come about on the Monte,appeared as a horrible monster to Benedict, with flames of fire darting out from his eyes and mouth, in an effort to frighten him and his disciples into ceasing their labors. Being ignored by our Saint, the evil one began to screech, spewing out his name, “Benedict! Benedict!” And when Benedict ignored him, the devil, infuriated by his lack of respect, cursed him, shouting “Cursed and not blessed are you. What do you have against me that you persecute me?” Benedict had a formidable enemy in Satan, who would attack him at any and every occasion that presented itself. And he did not limit his attacks to Benedict; but to his disciples as well. One day, as the monks were endeavoring to move a huge stone, they planned to use in the construction of the chapel, they found it impossible to budge, no matter what they did. Sensing the work of the devil, they summoned Benedict who proceeded to pray over the stone, causing the demons to flee, enabling the disciples to lift the stone easily.
As he was nearing middle age, he no doubt desired to lead a hermit’s life, as he had in Subiaco. But that was not to be the case. What the Holy Spirit wants known will be revealed. Soon disciples came hungering for the Word and life of St. Benedict. As the Lord allows us to make mistakes only to use the lessons learned in the future, in Subiaco twelve separate houses did not work out. Benedict decided to house all the disciples under one roof, with one prior and deans under his direction. Because of the proximity of Monte Cassino to Rome, unlike Subiaco, many flocked to Benedict and the new Abbey, necessitating additional guest rooms to house them. His reputation of piety, and wisdom spread, along with miracles upon miracles that were materializing. Consequently not only the laity but princes of the Church came seeking Benedict’s secret.
Benedict composes his Rule.
His Rule became so well-known, although it is believed that Benedict wrote it solely for his monks, it became widely believed as well, that it was written by the ardent wish of Pope St. Hormisdas to have it instituted in all the Monasteries of the Western Church. His Rule was simply addressed to all those who, renouncing their own will, take upon themselves “the strong and bright armor of obedience to fight under the Lord Christ, our King.” The Rule further prescribed that they were to lead a life of Liturgical prayer, study (sacred reading) and work, living in a community under one common father.17How apropos for everyone: Take upon ourselves “the strong and bright armor of obedience to fight under the Lord Christ, our King.” Obedience has always been the key! Lucifer refused to obey and he and those angels who followed him were lost. Adam and Eve failed to obey God the Father and they were lost. Then Jesus and Mary obeyed unconditionally the Father and the world was saved.
For a long time, the monks of Benedict’s order were not ordained with the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Furthermore, there is no evidence that St. Benedict was ever ordained a priest. Benedict wanted to form a community and school for beginners, with a Rule that was not overly austere. One day, Benedict discovered a hermit had chained his foot to a rock. Whereupon, he immediately sent a message to him, “If you are truly a servant of God, chain not yourself with a chain of iron, but with the chain of Christ.”18 Again so simple, but so profound! If only we could live these simple, yet life changing words of wisdom!
If one were to sum the totality of Benedict’s life and legacy to all of us, it would be the great vision he had of seeing the world as a sunbeam in the light of God. This is what inspired his life and ultimately his Rule.
Miracles abound in the life of Benedict.
There were many miracles coming about through Benedict’s intercession, while still alive. Like Jesus, he would have preferred it not get around, but word soon spread that Benedict raised the dead on more than one occasion.
One day, a bereaving father came to the monastery. He had heard that Benedict had brought people back from the dead, and he was bringing the body of his deceased son to Benedict to raise him from the dead. But sadly, Benedict was not there. So the father left his dead boy at the doorstep of the monastery and sought out Benedict. He found him returning from work with the other monks. “Give me back my son,” cried the desperate father. “But where is your son? Bring him to me,” said Benedict. The man, who by this time was hysterical, cried out, “I cannot. He is dead! I need you to come with me, and resurrect him.” Benedict insisted, “These gifts are reserved for the Apostles, not for me.” But the father was insistent - he would not leave without his son risen from the dead! Benedict raised his arms heavenward and then prayed, prostrate, over the child, “Father, please speak! Do not look at my sins, but at the worthiness of this grieving father, and bring his child back to life.” The child began to move. He was alive! After a few moments Benedict took him by the hand and led him to the loving arms of his most grateful father.
But not all miracles were for the poor and the faithful. The vile and murderous tyrant Totila the Goth, spreading his evil ways throughout the Roman Empire, finally came to central Italy and Saint Benedict. Now, Totila had heard of Benedict’s miracles and prophetic gifts, and he thought he would test him. So he took Riggo, the captain of his guards, and dressed him in his regal purple robes (the color of royalty), and sent him to Benedict at Monte Cassino, along with three counts from his court who always escorted him. But the disguise did not fool Benedict, who, upon Riggo appearing before him, addressed the impostor: “My son, why are you wearing these robes, as they do not belong to you?”19Riggo fled and reported what had transpired to Totila. Upon hearing his testimony, Totila went in haste to visit St. Benedict. It is written that when Totila appeared before Benedict, he was in such awe and wonder, he fell prostrate before him. Benedict, in his always charitable heart, after inviting him to stand several times, rose and helped Totila to his feet. Benedict spoke severely and prophetically: “It is time you ceased your vile and contemptible conduct. You are doing much evil, and much evil you have done. You will enter Rome; you will rule for nine years; and on the tenth you will die.”20 Totila remained alarmed and never forgot the prophecy. It was as if he were getting another chance. He went about altering his rule, lending more clemency to his sentencing. It came to pass, as Benedict prophesied: Totila reigned for nine years and died on the tenth year, in 542 A.D.
One day, the monks threw a bronze idol from the old pagan temple Athena (that Benedict and the monks had torn down) into a container in the kitchen, later to be discarded. It appears they placed it too close to the fire and the idol burst into roaring flames, threatening to burn down the kitchen and surrounding rooms. But Benedict, having been summoned, immediately sensed it was the work of the devil and he began to pray that the good Lord would open the eyes of the monks that they could see that it was simply a trick of the enemy to frighten them and the kitchen was not in any danger of being destroyed. He prayed and the flames disappeared, as quickly as they had appeared.
As the rancor of the devil spares no one, one day while our Saint was praying, who should appear to him but the devil himself. He boldly bragged he was going to kill the monks as they tried to build the chapel. Benedict went in haste to warn the monks of the impending danger. But alas, it was too late. The wall had collapsed with a monk crushed beneath it. The monks were beside themselves; but Benedict told them to retrieve the body of their comrade from under the rubble and leave him alone with the monk’s remains. Once alone, Benedict began to pray, supplicating the Lord to spare his disciple. The Lord heard his prayers and responded quickly, restoring the dead monk to life.
The devil never sleeps! While Benedict was out of the monastery, climbing up to the chapel of St. John, the devil was perched on the top of the summit of the monastery, on the lookout for the doctor, who had been called. Seeing him approach the monastery, the devil (cleverly disguised as an elderly monk), went out to meet him. The devil identified himself as a monk, and inquired what his business was there. The doctor told the devil that he had been summoned and he was carrying medicine to the monks. The elderly monk (devil) asked him to give him the medicine, promising he would give it to his brother monks. Unaware of his true identity, and thinking nothing of it, the doctor complied and left the medicine. In the meantime, Benedict, deep in prayer, became aware what was going on. He recognized the elderly monk was in reality the devil and prayed even more fervently. On the way to the monastery, Benedict encountered the elderly monk, who, while he had been fetching water, the spirit of the devil had entered into him and he was about to poison his brother monks. With the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Benedict pushed the elderly monk down and the fallen monk was immediately exorcised of the demon who had taken over, obsessing him to do evil to his brother monks. Because of this and other miracles, St. Benedict is known as Patron Saint of Exorcists.
Benedict the Prophet
Although those disciples and students, who sought him out, were his primary focus, he did not confine his gifts to them alone, but reached out to the brothers and sisters he found wanting in the surrounding villages, curing the helplessly ill, bringing solace to the lost, and sharing food and provisions with the poor.
He was a prophet! Although he and his disciples had barely enough to eat, Benedict gave what little they had to the multitudes starving, as a result of the devastating famine that had struck their area. When the monks became worried, complaining the five loaves, he had saved for them, were not enough for them to eat, Benedict prophesied: “You have not enough today, but tomorrow you will have too much.”21 When they awakened the next day, there before their very eyes and empty stomachs were two hundred bushels of flour, which had been left by an anonymous donor at the monastery’s gates.
Benedict even prophesied the destruction of his monastery. One day, a nobleman whose conversion had come about through St. Benedict’s intercession, came upon him weeping. When he questioned him, asking the source of his sorrow, Benedict replied, “This monastery which I have built and all that I have prepared for my brethren has been delivered up to the heathens by a sentence of the Almighty. Scarcely have I been able to obtain mercy for their lives.”22 This prophecy was to come to pass, when forty years later, the Monastery of Monte Cassino was destroyed by the hands of the Lombards.23
Scholastica - brother and sister united forever
No story of Benedict would be complete without recounting the story of his sister Scholastica. When Benedict moved to Monte Cassino, his twin sister Scholastica decided to move close to him. Consequently, she became Abbess of a community of Nuns approximately five miles from his monastery. As it is believed that Benedict also governed women as well as men, it is most likely that Scholastica was Abbess under his tutelage.24 She had consecrated herself to God while still a very young child, and following the example of her holy brother, she dedicated herself to living a life of prayer, reciting the spiritual exercises prescribed by her brother Benedict.
Living a truly contemplative life, Scholastica only visited her brother Benedict once a year. And then, as it was not permitted for women to enter the monastery, Benedict and some of his monks met Scholastica in a house a little ways from the monastery. [Most of what you have been reading would not be possible without the writings of St. Gregory.] The story of her last visit with her brother has been passed down to us by him.
On her last visit to her brother, she and he spent the whole day (as was their custom), speaking of holy things and eternal life. As the day was nearing an end, they sat down and supped together. Fearing this would be the last time they would see one another, Scholastica implored her brother to remain the night, and return the next day. As the Rule was that no monk could stay away from the monastery overnight, Benedict refused. Whereupon, Scholastica lay her head on her arms and prayed silently to the Lord, begging Him to intercede. No sooner had she lay her head down and prayed, than a violent storm broke the silence. It was obvious to all that Benedict and the monks could not venture outside of the house. Realizing what Scholastica had done, Benedict said, “God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” She meekly answered, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it. I asked it of God and He has granted it.”25
It soon became evident that Benedict and his companions would have to spend the night there; so they all settled down and prayed through the night, talking about holy things and life everlasting, which they both sought and which she would soon enjoy. The next morning, the sky was a bright blue, not a cloud in sight, and Benedict, along with his monks, parted for Monte Cassino. Scholastica, did your eyes swallow up the sight of your beloved brother, as he walked away? Had you known that this would be the last time you would see one another on earth? Three days later, our little precious Saint went to the eternal world she had always yearned for. Benedict was alone in his cell, praying, when he had a vision of Scholastica’s soul leaving her body and rising up to Heaven as a dove. Overjoyed with the knowledge his sister was in Paradise, he praised God and turned to the other monks informing them his sister had died. He sent some monks to bring back his sister’s body and then placed her body in the tomb he had made for himself. St. Gregory wrote: “So it happened that these two, whose minds had ever been united in the Lord, that even in the grave their bodies would not be separated.” 26
St. Benedict prophesied his own death!
The day would come when the Prophet, who had prophesied for others, would prophesy his own death. He gathered the monks together and advised them that in six days he would be going to the Father, and they should dig a grave to place his remains at rest. Consoling his monks and having prepared them for what was going to come to pass, he lapsed into a high fever. As he had prophesied, six days later, sensing the end was near, he asked his disciples to bring him to the chapel of St. Martin of Tours. This had been the center of his life on earth - this was where he extolled the praises of the Lord to all who came seeking to learn about this Savior Who died for them. He had spoken of our celestial Home, many times. Now he wanted to make his final sermon on his own journey Home. Knowing this was his last day on earth, he asked the monks for Food for the journey27- the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ - his final and last Holy Communion.
Once in the chapel, he asked the monks to help him stand. Braced and sustained by the loving arms of his children,28 his frail legs barely able to support him, summoning his last ounce of strength, he raised his arms to heaven and intoned his prayers for the last time. I am sure, he went to his Savior petitioning for all his children then and those to come, and praising the Lord for the gift of knowing Him better through His Word, His Eucharist and the children He had sent him.
And so, the last page of his life and story is coming to an end. Benedict went to the Lord doing what he had always done on earth - a model for the living and now a powerful succor29to those leaving this earth, shedding the body the Lord gave us for our time here. He died - yet he lives- leaving behind a rich inheritance to us and all his Benedictine children. He went out as he had lived - a glorious farewell to a marvelous life. He was buried beside his beloved sister Saint Scholastica, on the spot where the former altar to Apollo stood, the altar he had destroyed and rebuilt to honor God.
The Angels have come to bring you Home, Benedict.
The very day that our Saint went to the Father, a disciple living on Monte Cassino, and another living far away at another Abbey, had the same vision: a path laden with precious carpets, illuminated brightly by innumerable lights, extending from St. Benedict’s cell up to Heaven. A tall brilliant Angel explained to each of the disciples where the road came from, and why they both saw it at the same time:
“This is the road upon which Benedict, dear one of God, ascended to Heaven.”
A prophecy by our dear Saint had come to pass. The date was the 21st of March, in the year 547, the very day St. Benedict had predicted he would pass on.
Requiem to a Saint
St. Benedict, to the foolish, may appear dead; but his teachings and influence live on, touching those whom he desired to help while on earth - not only the monks of his Abbeys, but monks who would follow from other monasteries and other Orders, not excluding the strong impact he would have, and has had on the laity. Our first experience with St. Benedict was through a very holy young priest in our life, who had once desired to become a Benedictine and is one in his heart.
The other impact on us has been through the many Benedictine Crosses we have seen the laity wearing. Our prayer is that they will read this chapter and view our Television Program and learn more on his life.
And last, but not least, the awesome intercession of the Lord, Who ordained our Mission be located near the great Benedictine Subiaco Abbey here in Arkansas. Thanks to the monks and Abbot Jerome, much of our information was derived for this chapter and our television program on EWTN.
For many of you who wear the Cross of St. Benedict, we are adding the Litany of St. Benedict: Of course, it is not confined solely to those who wear the Benedictine Cross.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us
Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of Heaven,
have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, One God,
have mercy on us
Response: pray for us.
Holy Mary, Holy Mother of God,
Holy Virgin of virgins,
Holy Father, Saint Benedict,
Father most revered,
Father most renowned,
Father most compassionate,
Man of great fortitude,
Man of venerable life,
Man of the most holy conversation,
True servant of God,
Light of devotion,
Light of prayer,
Light of contemplation,
Star of the world,
Best master of an austere life,
Leader of the holy warfare,
Leader and chief of monks,
Master of those who die to the world,
Protector of those who cry to you,
Wonderful worker of miracles,
Revealer of the secrets of the human heart,
Master of spiritual discipline,
Companion of the patriarchs,
Equal of the prophets,
Follower of the Apostles,
Teacher of martyrs,
Father of many pontiffs,
Gem of abbots,
Glory of confessors,
Imitator of anchorites,
Associate of virgins,
Colleague of all the saints,
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy on us.
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.” Many of the ebooks are now available at Smashwords.com.
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