Today Benedictine monks and nuns celebrate the passing of St. Benedict, the founder [with his sister, St. Scholastica] of Western Monasticism.
Last month during my pilgrimage to Italy, I too out a day to go to Subiaco, to the monastery on the side of a hill, built around the cave where St. Benedict first retired from the world and lived as a hermit for several years.
It was not easy getting to the monastery, but I managed to get a ride from a forest ranger who looked like a monk with his long beard.
The various levels of the church are adorned with beautiful frescos (but you can’t take pictures). I tried to pray in the Sacro Speco, the Holy Cave, but found it hard. A marble statue of Benedict praying was distracting.
But beautiful images of Benedict, especially him praying with his sister, aided my prayer. (The image below is from the Yankton Benedictines blog.)
What are the images that help me pray? Often icons or the frescos, like those of Fra Angelico, help me to center myself and experience the presence of God in the lives of Jesus, Mary, the saints and prophets. Often the landscape here in western Honduras opens up to me the vastness of God’s love in creating the universe. These experiences open up my heart to contemplating God.
But sometimes the face of a person, especially a poor person, reminds me of God’s presence in those at the margin of power and wealth.
Benedict savored the presence of God in prayer and work and emphasized the importance of prayer and contemplation. But he did not neglect finding God in the poor and the stranger.
As he wrote in chapter 53 of his Rule:
Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: “I was a stranger and you took Me in” (Mt 25:35)….
“Let the greatest care be shown in receiving the poor and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.”
May the example of Benedict open our hearts to God’s presence in prayer and in humble service of the poor.