– Fr. Abbot Brendan Coffey OSB

These are turbulent times. We have lived through the banking crisis of 2008, the COVID crisis of 2020, the climate crisis of this present age, the war in Ukraine is regrettably ongoing and the Christian community in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world continue to suffer persecution. St Benedict is someone who can speak today into a time of crisis. Although the word PAX is written over the doorway of his great Abbey at Monte Cassino, just as it is written over our archway here, Benedict lived through several global crises in his lifetime.

The last fifteen years of his life on earth were a time of war, destruction and hardship with shortages of food and basic goods. In the year 536 there was a climate crisis caused by volcanic eruptions. This led to global cooling and floods, food shortages and earthquakes. Before his death in 547, there was a pandemic of bubonic plague: the plague of Justinian, which swept through the Byzantine Empire and is estimated to have killed between 30-50 million people. Added to this was the constant threat of invasion by the Lombards from the north. In this time of crisis, St Benedict forged a rule to help his monks live together before God and in peace. St Benedict’s life and the attraction of his Rule, continues to inspire men and women to follow the monastic vocation and to listen to the call of God – why?

The prologue of the Rule opens with the words, ‘Listen, my son, to the precepts of the Master and incline the ear of your heart’. If we wish to learn, then we have to listen. We must listen to the Scriptures, to preachers, teachers, philosophers, to the writers of the past and present, and dedicate our mind and heart to learning, as to God.

The example of the patience of the monks of old, who copied medieval manuscripts is set before us, perhaps years of work knowing that each stroke of the pen would benefit future generations. I am sure some of them were often tired, but they knew they were engaged in an enterprise that was greater than themselves. Patience is not something we are good at today.

St Benedict also reminds us that the discovery of God begins on our knees. He teaches us to pray and offer our work to God, ‘First of all. Every time you begin a good work, you must pray most earnestly to bring it to perfection’ This is wise advice for our age. He also teaches us to use the gifts of creation wisely, with moderation, not over-consuming or acting as though everything belonged to me.

Fortunately, the human spirit has the capacity to rise to the challenges of today, as it did in the past. Consider the response made to Ukraine, the openness to families of refugees. St Benedict writes, ‘“Distribution was made as each had need.” We also retain the capacity to fix our mind and heart on God, preferring nothing whatsoever to Christ.

These few reminders tell us that we must consider the good of every human person. In this way, each can play his or her part using their gifts for the good of others and then be welcomed home to heaven at the end of life like St Benedict, with those words of welcome, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’

Subscribe To Our Newsletter To Receive Updates