St. Benedict of Nursia
The Desire to Be Holy
The principal sources about the life of St. Benedict of Nursia are based on the writings of Pope Gregory the Great. Benedict was born around the year 480 in Nursia (modern-day Norcia) in Italy. He came from a well-to-do family. He was sent to Rome to study. However, Benedict did not stay for a long time in the Eternal City. Pope Gregory mentioned that the reason was Benedict was put off by the depraved lifestyle of many of his fellow students and so he did not want to make the same mistakes. What he only wanted was to please God.
Even before he finished his studies, Benedict left Rome and withdrew to the mountains east of Rome for solitude. After his brief stay in the village of Enfide, where for some time he lived with a “religious community” of monks, he became a hermit in the neighboring locality of Subiaco. He lived there, completely alone, for three years in a cave which would become the heart of the Benedictine monastery Sacro Speco.
Ora et Labora
Those three years of solitude in Subiaco became a time of maturation for Benedict. It was here that he bore and overcame the three fundamental temptations of every human being: self-affirmation and desire to put oneself at the center, sensuality and anger and revenge. He was convinced that only by overcoming these temptations, he would be able to say a useful word to others in their own circumstances of neediness.
After this event, Benedict arrived at Monte Cassino. Among the ruins of an ancient pagan acropolis, Benedict and some of his disciples built their first abbey. In 530, he composed his Rule. It was essentially a manual and a code for monastic life. In the Rule, Benedict wrote, “Idleness is an enemy of the soul; that is why the brothers have to devote themselves to manual work, in some hours, in others, to reading books containing the word of God.” He taught that prayer and work are not opposed to each other. Rather, they establish a symbiotic relationship. For him, work is an extension of prayer.
After he founded a number of monasteries, Benedict died on March 21, 547. He was believed to die because of fever. His relics were transferred to the monastery of Fleury in France in 672. This event is liturgically celebrated on the 11th of July. Veneration of St. Benedict was spread by thousands of monasteries which followed his Rule. The feast of St. Benedict is now generally held on 11 July 11, the date of the transfer of St. Benedict’s relics. However, Benedictine monasteries also maintain a celebration on March 21.
Five Interesting Facts About St. Benedict of Nursia
- St. Benedict of Nursia had a twin sister, St. Scholastica, who was the founder of the Benedictine sisters. They were very close growing up, and after entering religious life, made it a priority to visit with each other once per year to catch up.
- St. Benedict of Nursia was nearly assassinated twice by his own disciples! The monks who did not appreciate his strict rules tried to poison him, but when St. Benedict blessed the chalice, it shattered. The second attempt was when a jealous priest brought him poisoned bread, but St. Benedict called over a raven who frequently ate from his hand to take the poisoned bread somewhere where no one could eat it.
- Another miracle that St. Benedict performed was he drove out a stubborn demon who possessed a man. The possessed man was brought to the bishop and to various shrines of holy martyrs, but without any effect. Finally, the bishop summoned St. Benedict, called on the Lord Jesus Christ, and immediately freed the man from the demon, and gave him two rules to follow to avoid another demonic attack: abstain from meat the rest of his life, and do not try to enter the priesthood.
- In 1947, Pope Pius XII recognized St. Benedict as the Father of Europe. In 1964, Pope Paul VI declared him Patron of Europe.
- A medal is attributed to St. Benedict of Nursia, more commonly known as the Benedictine medal. For the Benedictines, all of the references noted on the medal solidify God as our guide and devotion to the Cross of Christ. Most crucifixes used during exorcisms have this medal.
Prayer to St. Benedict of Nursia
O God, who made the Abbot Saint Benedictan outstanding master in the school of divine service,grant, we pray,that, putting nothing before love of you,we may hasten with a loving heartin the way of your commands.Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, for ever and ever. Amen.