Pope Emeritus Benedict on St Benedict
General Audience 27.4.2005 explaining his choice of name Benedict is
a fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the
indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization. ..We are
familiar with the recommendation that this Father of Western Monasticism left
to his monks in his Rule: "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ"
(Rule 72: 11; cf. 4: 21). At the beginning of my service as Successor of
Peter, I ask St Benedict to help us keep Christ firmly at the heart of our
lives. May Christ always have pride of place in our thoughts and in all our
General Audience 17.9. 2008 At the time of the profound crisis
of the ancient civilization, the monks, guided by the light of faith, chose the
right pathway: the pathway of listening to the Word of God. Thus they were
great scholars of the Sacred Scriptures and monasteries became schools of
wisdom and "dominici servitii" school, "in the Lord's
service", as St Benedict called them. So it was that the search for God,
by its nature, brought the monks to a culture of the word. Quaerere Deum, in
searching for God, they sought him by following his Word and must therefore
have acquired an ever deeper knowledge of this Word. It is necessary to
penetrate the secret of the language in order to understand its structure. In
the search for God revealed to us in the Sacred Scriptures, the profane
sciences, oriented to attaining a deeper knowledge of the secrets of languages,
thus became important. Consequently, it was eruditio that developed in
the monasteries which permitted the formation of culture. Today, for this very
reason, quaerere Deum - seeking God, journeying towards God, is still,
as it was in the past, the main path and foundation of every true culture.
General Audience 9.4.2008 The period in Subiaco, a time of solitude with God,
was a time of maturation for Benedict. It was here that he bore and overcame
the three fundamental temptations of every human being: the temptation of
self-affirmation and the desire to put oneself at the centre, the temptation of
sensuality and, lastly, the temptation of anger and revenge. In fact, Benedict
was convinced that only after overcoming these temptations would he be able to
say a useful word to others about their own situations of neediness. Thus,
having tranquilized his soul, he could be in full control of the drive of his
ego and thus create peace around him…St Benedict's life was immersed in an atmosphere of prayer, the main foundation of his
existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God, but Benedict's
spirituality was not an interior life divorced from reality. In the disquiet
and confusion of his time, he lived under the gaze of God and with his own gaze
fixed upon God, though without losing sight of his daily duties and the
concrete needs of mankind…Benedict states that in the first place prayer
is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action.
"The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions
by our deeds" (Prol. 35).
Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as
"minimal, just an initial outline" (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he provides useful advice not only to monks but to everyone
seeking guidance on their journey to God. For its precision, its humanity, and
its sober discernment between what is essential and what is secondary in
spiritual life, the Rule has maintained its illuminating power up to today.
9 September 2007 …Quite simply, Benedict insisted that
“nothing be put before the Divine Office.
For this reason, in a monastery
of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn
choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly – thank God! – not the
only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men
and women, the married and the single – all Christians pray, or at least, they
In the life of monks, however, prayer
takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their
vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was
likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the
angels that they are worshippers. Their very life is worship. This should hold
true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific
intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini
Domino, quoniam bonus! – Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is
eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1). Such
prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called officium.
It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to
the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and
power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more
wondrously renewed it.
At the same time, the officium
of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony
offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it
or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus,
ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times
a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human
longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful
darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Acts
17:27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in
the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his
light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his
“fullness” (cf. Col 1:19); in him all truth, the truth for which we
yearn, has its source and summit.
Our light, our truth, our goal, our
fulfilment, our life – all this is not a religious doctrine but a person: Jesus
Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and to desire God, we
ourselves were already sought and desired, and indeed, found and redeemed by
him! The gaze of people of every time and nation, of all the philosophies,
religions and cultures, ultimately encounters the wide open eyes of the
crucified and risen Son of God; his open heart is the fullness of love. The
eyes of Christ are the eyes of a loving God. The image of the Crucified Lord
above the altar, whose romanesque original is found in the Cathedral of
Sarzano, shows that this gaze is turned to every man and woman. The Lord, in
truth, looks into the hearts of each of us.
The core of monasticism is worship –
living like the angels. But since monks are people of flesh and blood on this
earth, Saint Benedict added to the central command: “pray”, a second
command: “work”. In the mind of Saint Benedict, and Saint Bernard as
well, part of monastic life, along with prayer, is work: the cultivation of the
land in accordance with the Creator’s will. Thus in every age monks, setting
out from their gaze upon God, have made the earth live-giving and lovely. Their
protection and renewal of creation derived precisely from their looking to God.
In the rhythm of the ora et labora, the community of consecrated persons
bears witness to the God who, in Jesus Christ, looks upon us, while human
beings and the world, as God looks upon them, become good.
Monks are not the only ones who pray
the officium; from the monastic tradition the Church has derived the
obligation for all religious, and also for priests and deacons, to recite the
Breviary. Here too, it is appropriate for men and women religious, priests and
deacons – and naturally Bishops as well – to come before God in their daily
“official” prayer with hymns and psalms, with thanksgiving and pure petition.
Dear brother priests and deacons, dear
brothers and sisters in the consecrated life! I realize that discipline is
needed, and sometimes great effort as well, in order to recite the Breviary
faithfully; but through this officium we also receive many riches: how
many times, in doing so, have we seen our weariness and despondency melt away!
When God is faithfully praised and worshipped, his blessings are unfailing. In
Austria, people rightly say: “Everything depends on God’s blessing!”.
Your primary service to this world
must therefore be your prayer and the celebration of the divine Office. The
interior disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must be
that of “putting nothing before the divine Office”. The beauty of this inner
attitude will find expression in the beauty of the liturgy, so that wherever we
join in singing, praising, exalting and worshipping God, a little bit of heaven
will become present on earth. Truly it would not be presumptuous to say that,
in a liturgy completely centred on God, we can see, in its rituals and chant,
an image of eternity. Otherwise, how could our forefathers, hundreds of years
ago, have built a sacred edifice as solemn as this? Here the architecture
itself draws all our senses upwards, towards “what eye has not seen, nor ear
heard, nor the heart of man imagined: what God has prepared for those who love
him” (1 Cor 2:9). In all our efforts on behalf of the liturgy, the
determining factor must always be our looking to God. We stand before God – he
speaks to us and we speak to him. Whenever in our thinking we are only
concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the
battle is already lost. Either it is Opus Dei, with God as its specific
subject, or it is not. In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred
liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living
Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the
sublime beauty of the God who has called men and women to be his friends!
The soul of prayer, ultimately, is the
Holy Spirit. Whenever we pray, it is he who “helps us in our weakness,
interceding for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom 8:26). Trusting
in these words of the Apostle Paul, I assure you, dear brothers and sisters,
that prayer will produce in you the same effect which once led to the custom of
calling priests and consecrated persons simply “spirituals” (Geistliche).
Bishop Sailer of Regensburg once said that priests should be first and foremost
spiritual persons. I would like to see a revival of the word “Geistliche”.
More importantly, though, the content of that word should become a part of our
lives: namely, that in following the Lord, we become, by the power of the
Spirit, “spiritual” men and women.
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