Let’s begin with two questions.
Our Father Saint Benedict was proclaimed Principal Patron of Europe. Who was the Pope that did this and in what year? (Paul VI in 1964)
Did it surprise you that it is in the lifetime of most of us that this proclamation was made? Think about it. Saint Benedict was born in 480, some 1500 years ago. And Europe, of course, has been around longer than that. Look at the United States. We had a patroness within 15 years of the Declaration of Independence! Yet Europe was without an official patron till 1964.
And then the one chosen was not a young, dynamic mover and shaker type of Saint, nor the Queen of Heaven under one of her many titles, nor one of those guarding and guiding angels tradition has given us. No, it was our own Father, Saint Benedict, who wrote the least of Rules for monastics and aspired to be nothing more than a seeker of God.
My brothers and sisters, that is the beauty of the monastic life. That is the reality of our life of faith, hope and love. We can live in obscurity, toiling day in and day out, being faithful to the work of God, the work of our hands, and the work of our minds and hearts – and have a tremendous effect on our world.
Are these just pious words of the preacher, flights of fancy to allow us to think more of ourselves than we ought?
Well, if we look at Paul VI’s proclamation, we find that is exactly why he was turning to Benedict to be a guide and inspiration for the new age dawning after the Second Vatican Council, as Europe herself felt the stirring for a multi-national union after the horror of two world wars.
“For it was with the Cross, with the Book, and with the Plow, that Saint Benedict and his sons and daughters brought the Christian life to the people scattered from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia, from Spain to the plains of Poland.” It is clear from the next line in the text that by the Cross, Paul VI meant the primacy of the spiritual, the primacy of the Work of God, the liturgy, in our lives.
The Cross, the Book, and the Plow. Prayer, Reading, and Work.
These are the three pillars on which our monastic life is founded, the three sides of a delicate triangle that have to be constantly kept in balance. By living such a life, Paul VI says, Benedict and his sons and daughters transformed Europe. If they have done it once, why not again? And so he proclaims him Patron.
Only now a fourth element is added. Europe of the 20th and 21st centuries is searching for unity – or more specifically, for community, for what Saint Paul and Saint John called koinonia, communion.
Saint Benedict’s Rule is aimed at this very reality through all its observances and through the balance of its main elements. Cenobites are the strongest kind of monks because, bonded together in mutual love, service and support, we encourage, inspire and help one another to that community which is the source and summit of all communities – the communion of Father, Son, and Spirit.
Saint Benedict: Patron of Europe. Saint Benedict: the humble writer of the Rule for Beginners. Let us praise him.
One final thought. We know that our present Holy Father chose his name with Saint Benedict very much in mind. In his first general audience after his election he said: “I recall Saint Benedict of Nurcia, co-patron of Europe, (John Paul II added Cyril and Methodius as co-patrons) whose life evokes the Christian roots of Europe. I ask him to help us all to hold firm to the centrality of Christ in our Christian life: May Christ always take first place in our thoughts and actions.”
As we gather as a community around the altar, let us together strive for this primacy of Christ in our lives, – learning to prefer nothing to the love of Christ and may he bring us all to everlasting life.