March 21 is the feast day of Saint Benedict. He was born in Norcia in 480 and died in Monte Cassino in 543. Benedict is acknowledged as the founder of western monasticism, yet the famous Rule of Benedict, a book of precepts for monks living under the authority of an abbot, originally was written for lay people who wished to live a domestic life ordered by Christian principles. It was only later that the Rule of Benedict was adopted for monastic (clerical) life. Indeed, it became the foundation for thousands of Christian monasteries.
Ora et labora
Prayer and work, especially the latter, were critical to living a true Christian life. Saint Benedict believed that idleness is the Devil’s workshop. Therefore, he insisted that those living under the Rule of Benedict work very hard, always with the glory of God as the ultimate end of labor.
From the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict:
Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it, that He who has now deigned to count us among His children may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions, deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
Why does Saint Benedict appeal to us today?
Saint Benedict went to Rome as a young man to receive an education, but he left before finishing his studies, and retreated into a life of solitude in Affile, 50 km east of Rome. He was disgusted by the immoral and dissolute lives of young men in Rome.
As our own society disintegrates into a cesspool of depravity and chaos, we, too, wish to leave it behind and retreat to a place of sanity, governed by Christian virtues. Indeed, the popularity of Rob Dreher’s book, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, attests to the profound distress that many people feel, immersed in a society governed by the worship of money, pleasure and celebrity.
What can you do today without becoming a hermit or joining a monastery?
Pray to Saint Benedict and ask him to help you develop a habit of praying everyday and devoting at least 15 minutes a day to mental prayer. If you don’t pray, you will become despondent and angry.
Pray the Rosary. Read the daily Mass readings. Work hard, but make sure that your work glorifies God.
You can also join the Oblates of the Order of Saint Benedict. An oblate is a lay or clerical, single or married, person formally associated to a particular monastery. The Oblate seeks to live a life in harmony with the spirit of Saint Benedict as revealed in the Rule of Saint Benedict and its contemporary expression.