Monday, July 11, 2005

Notes on the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia.

Today the Church remembers one of its greatest sons, Benedict of Nursia, pioneer of Western monasticism and one of the principal patron saints of Europe. Benedict's life and the Rule attributed to his authorship served not only as the inspiration for the Benedictine order and its various offshoots but also played an instrumental role in the development of organized religious life in the Western Church. In a very real sense, Benedict is the father not only of the order that bears his name but of all Roman Catholic religious orders and congregations. As monasteries following Benedict's Rule proliferated in the Middle Ages, new forms of religious life also arose for those who felt called to serve God's people in different ways. The new religious rules that consequently developed - ultimately including St. Ignatius' Constitutions of the Society of Jesus - represented various responses to Benedict's Rule, each offering new and different ways of living a vowed common life in the Church. Even if the Jesuit ideals of contemplation in action and radical apostolic mobility appear to differ markedly from the cloistered stability characteristic of Benedictine life, we in the Society of Jesus (and people in religious life generally) owe a good deal to the saint we remember today.

The order that Benedict inspired also played an important role in the life of Ignatius of Loyola - and in my own. After a strong conversion experience, the young Inigo sojourned at the Benedictine Abbey of Montserrat, where he made a three-day general confession and spent a full night in prayer before the Virgin of Montserrat before setting off on the fateful pilgrimage that would ultimately lead to the birth of the Society of Jesus. For my own part, though I've embraced a call to Jesuit life I retain a great admiration for and interest in the Benedictine tradition. Shortly before entering the novitiate, I made a too-brief retreat at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island - where one of the monks thoughtfully reminded me that by spending time there I was in some sense following in Ignatius' footsteps at Montserrat. (I should note that I did not make a three-day confession or conduct an all-night prayer vigil in the abbey church.) In my life as a Jesuit I hope I'll continue to have opportunities for dialogue and shared prayer with my Benedictine brethren. Like Ignatius himself, I feel I owe them and their founder a debt of gratitude. AMDG.


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