The life of St Benedict revolves around two recurring themes, being in love and being on the move.
As a young man, Benedict fell in love with learning. To follow his love, he left his family and the familiar surroundings of Nurcia and went to seek out that learning in the schools of Rome. The decaying city of Rome proved a disappointment for Benedict, but during this time, he slowly nurtured a new love, the love of righteousness. Eventually this love drove him out of Rome in a search for solitude, which he found in a cave near Subiaco looking down on the ruins of the Emperor Nero’s villa, a constant reminder of the decaying ancient world all around him.
His years of solitude fostered the growth of a third love, a love of intimacy. This intimacy with God led him to abandon the austere solitary life as followers began flocking around him. He formed them into small communities of twelve monks each and later, after much torment, found himself on the move one last time to Monte Cassino, where he established his largest community and finally wrote his Rule for monks.
That Rule opens with famous words taken from the Book of Proverbs, ‘Listen my son to the precepts of the Master…’ The Rule is the fruit of Benedict’s love and his journey. He did not come up with the precepts of his monastic Rule in one sitting, but in one lifetime. The Rule speaks from Benedict’s own monastic journey of seeking and loving God. It is full of learning, the fruits of years spent in solitude with God, lessons learned from leading a community of monks and the wisdom and discretion of old age. It charts a long journey encompassing many new beginnings. Benedict can truly say with St Peter “Lord, we have left everything to follow you”.
Benedict insists that the love of Christ must come before all else, finding expression within the dynamics of community life in the love of others, where mutual obedience and care in all humility are live out, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.
Today, we face the challenge of being faithful to that love of Christ while adjusting to a fast-evolving world. We are living with a global pandemic and the challenges of a rapidly changing society. What does it mean for us to constantly love and leave behind the familiar and our personal preferences for the sake of this love? No matter how effective former ways may have been, we are urged to embrace the new ways that God invites us into: new ways of praying, of working, of relating with one another, of using the earth’s resources; but always for the sake of the love of Christ. For only then, does leaving the familiar behind and embracing the newness of life make sense.
Benedict has shown us the way. He felt the urge to leave behind the familiar in the pursuit of this love. He had the strength and courage to do so only because he loved God first. This is the key for all of us if we truly yearn for life and desire to see good days.