St Benedict, the Monk Named Benedict XVI and the Need for a Monastic Revival
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What an interesting turn in Church history that a modern Pope has become a monk. We have the precedent of monks becoming Popes, but this is the other way around. Monks have been a seed of many of the great renewals in the history of the Church. This monk named Benedict XVI, from his cloister within the walls of the Vatican, is engaged in the kind of prayer and contemplation which opens heavens portal and rattles the gates of hell. He called St. Benedict the Patron of His Pontificate. It is no accident he asked to keep the name Benedict when he voluntarily stepped aside from his service in the Chair of Peter. He is living a monastic vocation - right within the heart of the Vatican. How fitting. How prophetic. How beautiful. How powerful!
Pope Emeritus Benedict in Prayer
CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - On July 11th the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the life and legacy of St. Benedict of Nursia. He was born around the year 480 in Umbria, Italy. He is called the father of Western Monasticism and co-patron of Europe (along with Saints Cyril and Methodius). Benedict was chosen as a Patron due to his extraordinary influence on establishing Christianity in Europe and thus securing the Christian foundations of European civilization and the entirety of Western culture.
As a young man, Benedict of Nursia fled a decadent and declining Rome for further studies and deep prayer and reflection. He gave his life entirely to God as a son of the Catholic Church. He traveled to Subiaco; the cave which became his dwelling, the place where he communed deeply with God is now a shrine called "Sacro Speco" (The Holy Cave).
Subiaco is still a sanctuary for pilgrims, including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Right before his election to the Chair of Peter, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) traveled to the holy cave for a period of protracted prayer. I do not believe the visit was accidental. In fact, I have come to believe it was - and still is - prophetic.
Benedict of Nursia lived a life of prayer and solitude for three years and studied under a monk named Romanus. His holiness drew other men and women and soon, twelve small monasteries were founded. He later traveled to Monte Cassino, where he completed his "Rule for Monks." From those Benedictine monasteries, an entire movement was birthed which led to the evangelization of Europe and the emergence of an authentically Christian culture.
The ecclesial movement called western monasticism led to the birth and flourishing of the academy, the arts and the emergence of what later became known as Christendom. From its earliest appearance, the monastic movement was a lay movement. From the midst of the community, men were chosen for ordination as deacons and priests in order to serve the members and the broader mission as it participated in the overall mission of the Church.
On June 29, 2016, Pope Emeritus Benedict celebrated the 65th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood with Pope Francis who honored him with a beautiful tribute. In his comments he noted the monastic vocation which Pope Emeritus lives, "Your Holiness, you continue to serve the Church. You do not cease to contribute authentically with determination and wisdom to its growth; and you do so from that little Monastery Mater Ecclesiae in the Vatican."
When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was chosen to fill the chair of Peter, he had just returned from a pilgrimage to Subiaco, the cave where St Benedict spent three years in prayer. His choice of the name Benedict upon assuming the chair of Peter was intentional and prophetic. I believe the monastic life he has now chosen will not only continue his path to sanctity, but strengthen the whole Church and add to the theological treasury of the Church.
His prayer of intercession is assisting the Church in ways which we will only understand in the beauty and light of eternity. The work which he is doing may have effects we cannot comprehend. Monastic life and spirituality is labor immersed in prayer. The monk named Benedict XVI is still hard at work. The monk named Benedict XVI is practicing his gift of theology on bent knee.
Monks are a treasure of the Church. No matter how much formal theological study they have, it is their depth of prayer which makes them the best of theologians. So it is with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. An early monk named Evagrius of Pontus once wrote "a theologian is one who prays and one who prays is a theologian."
Out of the storehouse of grace monk/theologians help the faithful in their pursuit of the longing of every human heart - communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself in the face of Jesus Christ. What is necessary is to encounter Him, contemplate the beauty and be transformed in the encounter.
Monks are mystically caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ, which continues in and through the Church which is His Body. They follow a Rule, a Way of Life. In their work and prayer, they peel back the deeper mystery and remind us that all work done in the Lord participates in His ongoing work of redemption and is a means of holiness. They show us that "prayer without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is not an impossible ideal, but the call of every believer.
Too often, people mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its corruption. In fact, the monk retreats from this world in order to help transform this world by his prophetic witness and powerful life of prayer. The dedicated monk is an essential part of the Lord's plan for the whole Church - and for the world into which she is sent to continue the redemptive mission of her Head, Jesus Christ.
I believe that the brilliant theologian and monk named Benedict XVI, from the cloister right within the walls of the Vatican, is participating in deep prayer and contemplation for the whole Church. I will venture to propose that his best writing may still be ahead. It is his unfinished work. I truly hope that his choice of the monastic life, in this last chapter of a life lived in loving service, becomes a seed giving rise to a monastic revival in this new missionary age of the Church.
Monks and monastic renewal always seem to show up in Church history at pivotal times of internal church reform and external mission. We are in just such a time. We need a monastic revival. There is nothing more powerful than prayer - and monastic prayer is one of the most potent sources of spiritual grace.
Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the fountain of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church. Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord.
In the second millennium, their work and witness continued. Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.
In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is giving us a prophetic witness of monastic life right within the Vatican in this Third Christian Millennium. His teaching on monks during his papacy gives us insights into how he views his chosen vocation. For example, in an address given in 2007 he spoke of the monastic life as a gift for the whole church.
He told a group of monks in Austria, "just as a liturgy which no longer looks to God is already in its death throes, so too a theology which no longer draws its life-breath from faith ceases to be theology; it ends up as an array of more or less loosely connected disciplines. But where theology is practiced on bent knee, as Hans Urs von Balthasar urged, it will prove fruitful for the Church."
What an interesting turn in Church history that a modern Pope has become a monk. We have the precedent of monks becoming Popes, but this is the other way around. Monks have been a seed of many of the great renewals in the history of the Church. This monk named Benedict XVI, from his cloister within the walls of the Vatican, is engaged in the kind of prayer and contemplation which opens heavens portal and rattles the gates of hell.
In a General Audience on April 29, 2008 he called St. Benedict the Patron of His Pontificate. It is no accident he asked to keep the name Benedict when he voluntarily stepped aside from his service in the Chair of Peter. He is living a monastic vocation - right within the heart of the Vatican. How fitting. How prophetic. How beautiful. How powerful!
Over the years of Pope Emeritus Benedict's service in the Chair of Peter, he regularly spoke of monks and their essential contribution to the Church. In that address given in 2007, he zeroed in on the monastic life as a gift needed for the whole church. Now he is a part of that very gift.
As a 'revert' to the Church, one who returned after wandering away as a very young man, I spent 21 months in a Benedictine monastery shortly after coming home. There, I began what has become a lifelong journey of prayer and found my continuing hunger for theology on bent knee.
I also began what has become a lifelong study of the early fathers of the Church. I was taught by a wonderful monk in those years. He was the first of several monks who have graced my life with their gift of holy presence, making Christ so palpable by their interior life - one which overflows in a genuine transfigured humanity.
From my encounters with monks, living immersed in their unique and vital vocation, I learned that no matter how much formal theological study they have, it is their depth of prayer which makes them the best of theologians. So it should be with all theologians - one cannot give away what one does not have.
It is out of the storehouse of grace that monks and theologians are able to help the faithful in their pursuit of the longing of every human heart, communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself.
If we are all meant to see, to use one of the many beautiful expressions of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the human face of God in Jesus Christ, we must first encounter Him. It is not enough to know about Jesus. We must know Him. Only then can we contemplate the beauty and be transformed into His Image- only in the encounter. We need to live in communion.
The early Fathers called the Church the world in the course of transfiguration, being recreated in Jesus Christ. All who have been baptized into Jesus Christ now live in the Lord, by living in His Body, the Church. We go into this world, in order to bring all men and women back home, into the Church, which is a sign and seed of the coming kingdom.
Monks are prophetic seeds of the kingdom who support us in this missionary task to which we are all called. They have always been around when we need them the most. We need many, many more. We need a monastic revival in this urgent hour in the history of the Church and the world.
"Lord, send us monks for the renewal and reform of your Church. Thank you for the monk named Benedict who is now cloistered inside the Vatican and holds the Church up with his prayer."
Deacon Keith A. Fournier is Founder and Chairman of Common Good Foundation and Common Good Alliance. A member of the clergy, a Roman Catholic Deacon, he is also constitutional/ human rights lawyer and public policy advocate who served as the first and founding Executive Director of the American Center for Law and Justice in the nineteen nineties. He has long been active at the intersection of faith, values and culture and currently serves as Special Counsel to Liberty Counsel. Deacon Fournier is also a Senior Contributing Writer for THE STREAM
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