St. Benedict of Nursia: Led by the Spirit to a Balanced Life of Prayer and Work
Benedict emphasized a balanced life of prayer and work that had as its ultimate goal human sanctity and union with God.
"Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection; that he, who has honored us by counting us among his children, may never be grieved by our evil deeds" Benedict believed in a balanced life of prayer and work that had as its ultimate goal human sanctity and union with God. He saw prayerfully infused work as the path to holiness.He understood that work is for man, not vice-versa. Do we?
The primary source of material on St. Benedict's life is found in a biography written about him by St. Gregory the Great, in which we read of a life-changing decision Benedict made that would set him on the path to God: "Giving over his books, and forsaking his father's house and wealth, with a mind only to serve God, he sought for some place where he might attain to the desire of his holy purpose; and in this sort he departed [from Rome], instructed with learned ignorance and furnished with unlearned wisdom" (qtd. from The Catholic Encyclopedia).
St. Gregory emphasizes the Spirit's wisdom and transformative grace in directing the life of Benedict toward its predestined end. God had great plans for Benedict, which could not be fully realized until he first gave himself over in obedience of faith to Christ, just as Christ gave himself over on the cross for our sake in obedience to the Father's unsurpassable love. And that is what Benedict did: he fell in love with God. This led him to deliberately, for God's sake, choose "the hardships of life and the weariness of labour" (ibid.).
Benedict felt called to a life of simplicity and poverty, supported by his own labors. After finding his way to Subiaco, which is about forty-two miles from Rome in the Simbrucini mountains, he became a hermit and lived in a cave for about three years, where he was often visited by his monk friend Romanus, who occasionally brought him food. But Benedict would not long remain in solitude. Drinking from the well-spring of the Spirit's wisdom, Benedict soon became respected for his self-knowledge and his understanding of human nature, which led to his invitation to become abbot of a nearby monastery after the former superior's death. According to St. Gregory, this ended in failure: the monks rejected Benedict and tried to poison him.
The unwanted Benedict retired once again to his cave; however, God showered him with heavenly gifts, which resulted in the fruits of numerous miracles. Consequently, people came to Subiaco in order to model his sanctity and to live under his guidance. From the seed of these miracles, Benedict soon established twelve monasteries, each housing twelve monks with its own superior. The saint himself chose to live in a thirteenth monastery with "a few [men], such as he thought would more profit and be better instructed by his own presence" (ibid.).
As we read from the Rule of Benedict, which was adopted throughout Europe as the ideal of life in the monastic community, earning him the title of patriarch of Western monasticism, we are brought back full-circle to those impulses of the Spirit received during his youthful time in Rome:
"So we should at long last rouse ourselves, prompted by the words of Scripture: Now is the time for us to rise from sleep (Rom 13:11). Our eyes should be open to the God-given light, and we should listen in wonderment to the message of the divine voice as it daily cries out: Today, if you shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps. 95:7-8).
If we were to sum up Benedict's spirituality, it would be ora et labora: "prayer and work." However, his understanding of the purpose of work was far different from the contemporary attitude in which work is viewed through the lenses of materialism, pragmatism and single-minded efficiency. Today, it is often thought that man is made for work. Taken in its extreme, people are exploited as objects to be manipulated for profit and material gain.
Further, it is easy to make of ourselves slaves to work: in an effort to acquire all the more unnecessary material possessions, we become so immersed in work that God is relegated far down on the list of priorities. We may even become consistently forgetful of God's immanent presence, which is a not infrequently encountered spiritual malady. As an additional effect of this type of self-induced bondage, our family suffers: even when we are home, we remain preoccupied by the demands of work or feel too stressed and exhausted to interact with our children or our spouse. In this way, we are more absent than present.
St. Benedict understood that work is for man, not vice-versa. While he saw work as necessary for man and "essential for him as a Christian," serving human nature as a disciplinary force against idleness and temptation and acting as a means to enhance spiritual growth (The ...
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