The following is Abbot James homily for the Solemnity of the Passing of St. Benedict, March 21.
We are given the details we have of the life of St. Benedict through his Rule, and through the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great. We are told that St. Benedict fled Rome and his liberal arts studies at about the age of 20, seeking the solitude of a hermit in a cave near the town of Subiaco. St. Gregory tells us that on the road to Subiaco, St. Benedict met a monk named Romanus.
In yesterday’s Magnificat, the following reflection was given on this chance meeting:
“Romanus’ monastery was from the established Bysantine Greek tradition… Thus, on the road to Subiaco, Eastern Christianity met Western, the Greek met the Latin, one man met another man, and a simple collaborative friendship began. The older monk listened to Benedict’s aspirations. Perhaps they spent some days together, but at the end Romanus clothed the young man with the… (Byzantine monastic robe) and brought him to a cave below the cliff of his own monastery. Then Romanus served the young hermit. Every day he tied some bread to a rope and lowered it down to Benedict’s cave. Thus during these years of formative solitude, from which the first monastic communities of Subiaco would be born, Benedict was not entirely alone. Romanus provisioned him the whole time, and saw to the needs of this young man whom he had vested in the habit of his community. Surely Benedict saw great love in that daily loaf [of bread]. He sought to live for God alone, and in this life he was helped by a friend’s service. Perhaps this simple gesture helped him understand monastic community: the way that monks search for God and find him in service of their brothers. Here was a basic insight that awakened and shaped Benedict’s vision. That crusty bread dangling on a rope held the future of Western civilization, and so much more.”
That crusty bread dangling on a rope held the future of Western civilization, and so much more.
Something so simple, so ordinary, as to provide a daily loaf of bread, allowed St. Benedict to internalize Him for whom he searched, and something so simple, so ordinary, as providing a loaf of bread, changed the world.
St. Romanus and St. Benedict could not have envisioned the results of that daily interchange, they could not have envisioned the fruit of their friendship.
Brothers, our lives, our simple, day-to-day offering has the power to be born into something great.
- The simplicity of rising at 6 a.m. every day for prayer.
- The simplicity of daily labor in our various assignments.
- The simplicity of coming together for meals and recreation.
- The simplicity of stopping what we are doing at the sounding of the bell, and making our way to chapel for prayer throughout the day.
- The simplicity of serving each other through various tasks around the monastery.
- The simplicity of denying our own desires for the good of the community.
- The simplicity of silence and the gift of listening.
- The simplicity of dying to self each day, of keeping death daily before our eyes.
- The simplicity of putting on the yoke of Christ.
There is nothing about any of these individual things that makes our lives anything but simple.
At times we might even fall into the temptation of thinking my life is for naught, it’s unexciting, unproductive. We are reminded then of “That crusty bread dangling on a rope” that “held the future of Western civilization, and so much more.”
Brothers, we come before God in this Eucharist with this daily offering of our lives as monks of this monastery, as brothers in Christ, and sons of St. Benedict.
We make this offering in the sign of some crusty bread and simple wine. Christ receives our offering and simply changes it into his own Body and Blood.
Simplicity becomes extra-ordinary.
Our lives as monks, as sons of St. Benedict, we offer simply, and for nothing else than for the glory of God.