We Owe So Much to Benedict and His Monks and Nuns

All Benedictine Saints

Feast Day: 13th November

Today we honour all those men and women who made their way to God by following the Rule of Saint Benedict as I sing the praises of such a great Order.

His influence has been worldwide. The people of England have particular reason to be grateful, for it was through the Benedictines that Christianity was brought to them. The Benedictine Pope, Gregory the Great, was inspired by the sight of blond-haired slave boys in Rome: on being told they were Angles he remarked, "not Angles, but angels” and immediately decided to send Benedictine monks on a mission to convert their people.

The leader of this mission was St Augustine who established his see at Canterbury. He and his monks were at first fearful of entering a land of fierce pagans, but the pope wrote encouraging letters. Augustine made many converts, but had some problems with the Celtic Christians, who detested their Saxon neighbours. It was Augustine’s desire that the two parties should be reconciled.

Although his efforts at achieving unity were unsuccessful it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for consolidating and extending the faith. Monasteries began to be founded all over the country. One of the most notable was Jarrow, to which Bede was sent at the age of five. He became a great scholar and historian and his History of the English Church has contributed a great deal to our knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon period. He never left his monastery, but was content with his quiet, contemplative life.

One famous Benedictine who did leave his monastery was Boniface. He was born in 672 and from early childhood wanted to be a monk. He felt called to spread the Gospel in Germany and was authorised by the pope to preach to the heathen to destroy paganism - according to the legend Boniface himself laid an axe to a sacred oak tree which was an object of veneration. The tree crashed to the ground and from that moment the work, of evangelisation advanced rapidly. But before he could complete the conversion of Friesland he was martyred.

Then there was the talented Hildegard of Bingen, a great mystic who also wrote hymns and sacred plays. She appears to have led a busy life travelling, exchanging letters with the pope and finding time to build a monastery with running water!

Hildegard’s writings were an inspiration to Bernard of Clairvaux. He in turn was to bring 130 men with him into the Order. Together they formed a new community to be known as the Cistercians. From this "bright valley" 68 monasteries were established, including Rievaux in Yorkshire. Bernard was famous as a preacher who helped quash the Albigensian heresy and recruited men for the Crusades. He is noted for his devotion to Our Lady and he has given us the famous prayer, the Memorare.

The last Benedictine saint I shall mention is Gertrude - it is through her that I have a devotion to the Holy Souls in Purgatory. She was the one who told the Lord that all the benefits that would come to her at the end of her life were to be given to the Holy Souls. Our Lord gave her that powerful prayer, “Eternal Father, I offer You the most precious Blood of Your divine Son Jesus in union with all the Holy Masses being offered today throughout the world for the Holy Souls in Purgatory.” Jesus told her that whenever this prayer is recited he would release many souls form Purgatory.

All these Benedictine saints have something to teach us: Gregory the encourager, Augustine and Boniface the missionaries, Hildegard the mystic musician, Bede the historian, Bernard the vocation director and Gertrude the lover of the Holy Souls.

I cannot end without mentioning a great Benedictine of own times, Cardinal Basil Hume, a very respected prelate in our country among all denominations.

The world owes so much to Benedict and his Order. We pray today that more men and women will be drawn to serve God through the religious life and that the Benedictine Order will continue to grow.