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Benedict of Nursia (480?-547) July 11th

Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, today’s Norcia, in Italy. When he was in the middle of his literary studies, understanding the real meaning of the licentious lives of his companions, and having himself been deeply affected by the love of a woman, he weighed all these things against the life taught in the Gospels and was attracted more by the Gospel. As a young man he could have followed a career as a Roman noble, but in about 500 he abandoned his studies and left home, seeking to get away from city life. In the mountains, about forty miles from Rome, at Enfide, he joined with a group of men who were in sympathy with his view of life. From here he travelled up into the mountains until he reached a cave, above which the mountain rose almost vertically. On his way, Benedict met a monk named Romanus, who advised him to became a hermit. So for three years, unknown to anyone else, he lived in the cave.

During these years of solitude, broken only by occasional visits from Romanus, Benedict matured in mind and character, in knowledge of himself and others, and slowly became known to those around him, securing their respect. Thus, when the abbot of a nearby monastery died, the community came to him and begged him to become its abbot. Benedict was acquainted with monastic life and discipline, and realised that their ways were so different from his that they would never agree together, but at length, because of their persistence, he agreed. The experiment failed, and the monks tried to poison him. Legend says he was saved through two miracles.

He returned to his cave, and the stories of his miracles drew many people to the area, attracted by his sanctity and character, seeking to be under his guidance. He built twelve monasteries for them in the valley, in each of which he placed a superior with twelve monks. He himself lived In a thirteenth with a few whom he thought would profit more from being in his own presence. He himself was the abbot of all these monasteries. He also began schools for children.

Benedict’s main achievement is his “Rule”, containing precepts for his monks. It is heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian and the Rule of the Master, but Benedict achieved a unique balance, moderation and reasonableness in his Rule. This led to it being adopted by most religious communities founded during the Middle Ages. As a result, the Rule of Benedict became one of the most influential in western monasticism, and beyond into Christendom as a whole. As a result, Benedict is often called the founder of western Christian monasticism. He died at Monte Cassino in Italy, while standing in prayer to God. According to tradition, this occurred on March 21st. 547. Initially he was commemorated on that date, but it always fell during Lent, which meant it could not be a real celebration. Later, therefore, his memorial date was changed to July 11th.

Teach me, dear Lord, the value and importance of all things, so that I may discern and follow Your will. Protect me from those who would harm me and give me wisdom in dealing with them. Keep me steadfast in my desire to worship You and learn from You; to the praise of Your name. Amen.