Today is the feast of St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism.
Though the spirituality of St. Francis is central to my life and work, I have a tender spot in my heart for Benedict and monasticism.
Benedict was a realist. Though he began his spiritual quest in a cave in Subiaco, he began to see the importance of community life, lived in moderation. He subsequently wrote a Rule – and moved to Monte Cassino, possibly after someone tried to poison him.
Benedict’s rule moves away from the ascetic seeking heaven by mortification to a life lived with others in prayer and work – not only prayer – in a school of the Lord’s service.
Benedict’s original idea was real equality among the monks, where everyone served:
The brethren should serve one another. Consequently, none will be excused from kitchen service unless they are sick or engaged in some important business of the monastery, for such service increases reward and fosters love. . . . Let all the rest serve one another in love.
However, there later arose the distinction between the choir monks and the lay brothers who did the manual work.
This happened in other religious orders, even among the Franciscans where priests assumed the superior positions.
In some ways this is being rectified.
I remember the story of a friend who was seeking a change in life and had decided to seek it at Mount Saviour Monastery. He saw a monk working the garden and asked him where he could find the prior, Fr. Martin. The working monk was Fr. Martin.
This example of serving one another is central not only for religious life but for all of us.
As St. Benedict also wrote:
This then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: “They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other” (Romans 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, ad earnestly competing in obedience to one another.
A good admonition for all of us..