21st March, 2020

Homily for St Benedict's Day

St Benedict

Please see below Fr Gabriel's Homily for the solemnity of the passing of St Benedict

I welcome you all to Mass on this feast day of St Benedict on behalf of Fr Abbot and of the monastic community. It is necessary to say, though it feels a little odd and even self-advertising, that I am Fr Gabriel. We have very specially in mind and in prayer those of you joined to us, we hope, through the livestreaming – may it work and work well. We acknowledge this most disconcerting fact that we are here and behind closed doors, today for the first time and for how long we do not know. St Benedict indeed, please pray for us all on the feast day of your passing that through your prayer we may come together again and then at the end with you and all the saints to everlasting life.

I would like to make three brief points taken from the life of St Benedict by Pope St Gregory the Great.

The first of these is the fact that he began his monastic life living a solitary life in a cave at Subiaco, a point which today suddenly has a new meaning for us and poignancy. It was a hermit life which he lived without the support of the worship and sacraments of the Church.

We are told that ‘when the man of God arrived at the place he wanted, he entered a narrow cave. He remained there three years, unknown to anyone but the monk Romanus’.

But there was an exception to this when a nearby priest heard the Lord asking him to take a meal to Benedict on Easter day. We are told of Benedict: ‘He was cut off from society so long that he had no idea that that very day was the Solemnity of Easter.’ He accepted gratefully the Easter meal. St Benedict can thus be a special patron for monks, but even more today for those feeling cut off and trying to live their Christian lives prayerfully.

Secondly, we turn to him too in this time of great distress and global emergency, with so much uncertain in many different ways about the future, not just medically but a pandemic of anxiety, in which we can feel abandoned.

Much later in his time as monk, and now at Monte Cassino, St Gregory tells us that one day a man who had been converted by St Benedict, entered the abbot’s cell to find him weeping bitterly. To his surprise the tears did not cease and were clearly tears of great sorrow. St Benedict explained to him: ‘This whole monastery that I have built and all that I have prepared for the brothers, has been given over to the barbarians by the judgment of almighty God. I have only obtained with great difficulty that the monks themselves will be spared’.

So it was. Some 30 years after St Benedict’s death the monastery was sacked and destroyed by the Lombards, the first in fact of five destructions in that abbey’s long history down to the present day. St Benedict’s real tears were not a sign of lack of faith or trust, rather they are reminder to us when we are set at naught, our distress will be very real and our peace will only be peace ‘among the thorns’ ‘pax inter spinas’, real and sharp thorns.

St Benedict did not enjoy a plaster cast imperturbability, which might after all be but stunted emotion, but he know only the peace among real and sharp thorns. So it will be for us. Indeed in these tears of our holy Father there is a not so easy lesson for us as individuals and also for institutions, including monastic institutions, of just how much, at first apparently disastrous, lies nevertheless in the providence of God. We set such store by success, but here is a real lesson in humility.

Thirdly and finally, today’s feast is the ‘passing of St Benedict’, his death, his passover through death to eternal life. St Gregory describes his end thus and still today it is depicted in a statue one meets on entering the monastery of Monte Cassino: ‘Then, with his weak body held up by his disciples, he stood with his hands raised toward heaven and breathed forth his last as he prayed’. He died praying and in the posture of prayer, just as he had lived praying. So it is to be for us, brethren, his followers. That stretching of the arms cruciform, is a reminder of the Lord in the sacrificial offering of his life on the cross and a reminder of what is to be in our lives in their offering as we in our turn take up our cross and follow him. The stretching of the arms, of the heart, is too a reminder of the words at the end of the Prologue of the Rule, that the way which seems so narrow is nonetheless the one which leads to the expanding of the heart, the heart stretched, dilatato corde. But then there comes in the Rule the key phrase it brings us to the ‘inexpressible delight of love’. A delight of love.

Celebrant Let us, on this solemn feast of St Benedict, bring our prayers to God for the Church and the world

Let us pray on this celebration of the passing of St Benedict, for all Benedictine monks and nuns throughout the world and for vocations to the monastic life. Let us pray for all our oblates and for all today joining us by livestreaming and for so many unable themselves to be present at Mass.

Lord in your mercy

Let us pray on this feast of St Benedict, for all those worldwide affected in any way by the Coronavirus, for those who give themselves in caring for the sick and for the governments of the world in the decisions that they must make. We pray for those deeply affected by the anxiety of this moment. We pray for the comforting of those who sorrow and for the repose of the souls of those who have died.

Lord in your mercy

In a moment of silence we bring our own intentions and prayers to God

Celebrant God our Father, may we offer ourselves to you and through our celebration may we live our lives in love for you and for one another, through Christ our Lord.