My dear confreres and friends in Christ, today we celebrate in a special way the influence that St. Benedict that has had on countless peoples and cultures through the example of his life and his Rule. On the date that originally celebrates the transfer of his relics – or at least by faith his moral remains – from Montecassino in Italy to the monastery of Fleury in France, it is appropriate to celebrate how the living legacy of his teaching and the monastic communities, oblates, teachers, students, parishioners, and faithful people of God, have spread from the monastery of Montecassino to the ends of the earth.
On the Solemnity of the Ascension this year, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Benedict now enshrined beneath the main altar of the basilica at Montecassino. Recalling the fourth destruction of the great monastery by violence during WWII, and its subsequent reconstruction, Pope Benedict remarked on how St. Benedict points the way to rebuilding from the ashes of social destruction during our own time. During his address he said: “[St.] Benedict was a shining example of holiness and pointed the monks to Christ as their only great ideal; he was a master of civility, who proposed a balanced and adequate vision of the demands of God and of the final ends of man; he also always kept well in mind the needs and the reasons of the heart, in order to teach and inspire a genuine and constant brotherhood, so that in the complexity of social relationships the unity of spirit capable of always building and maintaining peace was never lost sight of. It is not by chance that the word Pax [peace] is the word that welcomes pilgrims and visitors at the gates of the abbey, rebuilt after the terrible disaster of the Second World War, which stands as a silent reminder to reject all forms of violence in order to build peace: in families, within communities, between peoples and all of humanity. St. Benedict invites every person that climbs this mount to seek peace and follow it (Rule, Prol. 17).
As the Holy Father so rightly says, St. Benedict indeed embodies a message that we need to hear in our own day, beginning in our own monasteries, homes and communities. Pope Benedict went on in his remarks to exhort members of monastic communities, and I would say all persons who are inspired by St. Benedict, to recommit themselves to the wisdom of his teaching, not only for their own good, but for the good of the world. He said: “… to seek God, [is] the fundamental commitment of man. Human beings cannot achieve full self-realization or ever be truly happy without God. It is your special responsibility, dear monks, to be living examples of this interior and profound relationship with [God], implementing without compromise the program that your founder summarized in the ‘put nothing before the love of Christ.’ (Rule 4.21). In this holiness consists, a valid proposal for every Christian, more than ever in our time, in which the need to anchor life and history to solid spiritual principles is felt. Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, your vocation is as timely as ever, and your mission as monks is indispensable.”
This is indeed a special message for us today. However, we might ask ourselves how we are to accomplish this. How are we to influence the world if we are committed by our vows to a particular place, to a particular small community, to a particular and relatively normal rhythm of life? Do we not need to look outside ourselves in order to answer this call to change the world? What if I am too young, what if I am too busy, what if I am too depressed, what if I struggle with weakness of body and behavior, what if I am infirm, what if I am now to elderly to make a difference? If these questions haunt us, or tempt us to discouragement, or to look for things beyond our state in life, then we need to listen closely to the readings for our liturgy this morning. These questions are not, for example, that different from those of the prophet Micah. He asked with what he could possibly bring before the Lord to satisfy the demands of God, or to make up for his own weakness and sinfulness. The reply was simple: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” This, I believe, is the answer we need to hear when we ask how we can possible meet the challenge set before us by the Pope.
Jesus gives us a similar invitation in our gospel today. Jesus is moved to joy by the learned and clever, those who can impress others by the knowledge and skill. No, Jesus rejoices in the understanding of God’s will possessed by the childlike. And in that joy he invites us to come to him because he is “gentle and humble of heart.” It is by embracing the humility and love of Jesus that we can be freed from our preoccupation with success or the need to impress others or the need to make a difference. If we take up the yoke of Jesus, that is the complete and humble submission of our will to that of the Father, then we will have done enough. Our embodiment of the simple love of Christ, even in this humble and out of the way places where we live, will be sufficient, for in doing so we will be imitating the Lord himself. This is what St. Benedict did and he changed the world. It is what we are called to do. If we succeed in this one thing, this humble journey with Jesus, then we will not help but change the world as well.