Monday, August 1, 2016

St. Benedict, Man of Holiness

Today the Rule of St. Benedict is one of the most followed and famous of rules that was formulated by one of the church's most beloved saints. Benedict was brought up in a distinguished family and given a grand heritage, but he himself was outraged by the immoral evils of his time and abandoned everything to seek silence and solitude.

He spent three years living in a cave and was brought food by a monk named Romanus. As Benedict increased in holiness many came to him seeking spiritual guidance, few of the many seeker actually came from a monastic community a few miles away from his cave. It was here that Benedict began to form his rule showing how ordinary folk could grow in holiness. His rule was to focus on the disciplining of one's interior will, rather than on exterior penances. He wanted to help teach his monks how to learn discipline by way of learning humility, obedience, stability and being able to meet the accommodations of community life.

Benedict's rule contained a balance of work, prayer, community life and monastic discipline; which would eventually set up the path for Western monasticism. Today the Benedictine spirituality is very much alive in the church and world with many laity living out the rule of Benedict.

What is known about Benedict and his earlier life and spirituality comes from the writings of Pope Gregory the Great and through tradition. The church celebrates the life of St. Benedict on July 11.

The Saint Benedict Medal has been a popular devotional for many centuries.  The current one was fashioned in 1880 for the 1400th Anniversary of the death of St. Benedict. 

On the face of the medal is the image of Saint Benedict. In his right hand he holds the cross, the Christian's symbol of salvation. The cross reminds us of the zealous work of evangelizing and civilizing England and Europe carried out mainly by the Benedictine monks and nuns, especially for the sixth to the ninth/tenth centuries.

In St. Benedict's left hand is his Rule for Monasteries that could well be summed up in the words of the Prolog exhorting us to "walk in God's ways, with the Gospel as our guide."

On a pedestal to the right of St. Benedict is the poisoned cup, shattered when he made the sign of the cross over it. On a pedestal to the left is a raven about to carry away a loaf of poisoned bread that a jealous enemy had sent to St. Benedict.
On the back of the medal, the cross is dominant. On the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a rhythmic Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!).

In the angles of the cross, the letters C S P B stand for Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti (The cross of our holy father Benedict).

Above the cross is the word pax (peace), that has been a Benedictine motto for centuries. Around the margin of the back of the medal, the letters V R S N S M V - S M Q L I V B are the initial letters, as mentioned above, of a Latin prayer of exorcism against Satan: Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! (Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself!)