Today we honor St. Benedict, a man who wedded Roman common sense to a religious rule of life that has remained holy and practical for fifteen hundred years.
As a well schooled young Roman, Benedict enjoyed a relationship with a young lady, but he was turned off by the wild carrying-on of the young people around him. He didn’t want to be part of a life where young men sipped wine while lying around in marble baths, looking forward to an old age when they would sip wine, lying around in marble baths, endlessly talking.
Coming across an account of the life of “St. Anthony In The Desert,” Benedict escaped to a cave east of Rome where he practiced the life led by the hermit Anthony. In time, other young men joined him in that holy way of life, praying from the Book of Psalms several times a day.
In the year 530 A.D. an uncle of Benedict’s left him the crest of Monte Casino south of Rome, and Benedict and the men attached to him moved there. They divided their days between working their gardens and coming together for chanting the Psalms.
Two other long-lasting Catholic religious families came into being at that time. For one thing, Benedict’s sister Scholastica, with her part of their family inheritance, settled a few miles south of Monte Casino. Like-minded women joined her in a regime of work and prayer that over the centuries came to be known as the rule of St. Benedict.
That same year that Benedict took over the crest of Monte Casino a man whom he would never meet or hear about set up a monastery at Clonard in Ireland. St. Finnian and his companions came together at set hours of the day to chant the Psalms, but their way of life differed from that of the Benedictines in two ways. First, they benefitted mankind by century after century copying and recopying the books of the Bible and the classics of Greece and Rome.
The other way in which the Irish monks differed from the Benedictines was by their adopting the severe penances of St. Anthony and the monks of the desert. They sought to strengthen their souls by punishing their bodies. The Benedictines followed the milder Roman adage “Mens sana in corpore sano,” which means, “Keeping the soul healthy by keeping the body healthy.”