Saint Benedict is one of the more famous saints in the Catholic Church. There have been 16 popes that have gone by that name. His recognizable medallion, and cross with its medal as Christ’s Halo, and his monastic orders contribute to his notoriety. His monastery at Monte Cassino is western Europe’s oldest and was heavily bombed during World War 2 in an effort to defeat the Nazi’s. It was bombed to root out evil, and it was built so that the Saint and his followers could flee from the same. Of what use would that building have served if its occupier’s were under the spell of a satanic dictator to propagate works of hatred and evil? Benedict himself would have gladly destroyed it himself rather than let it be used as an instrument of corruption. To understand that, one must understand something of Benedict’s history.
Saint Benedict, born 482AD, began his career as a student of rhetoric in Rome. Many of his colleagues were well to do students who lived a carefree and somewhat decadent lifestyle. Benedict became concerned about the lifestyle of his contemporaries in that city. He witnessed what their vices were doing to their lives. Rome itself had fallen into a pagan culture with astonishingly low moral standards. He left Rome and his studies to live in solitude, first in a small village with his nurse, then to the mountains of Subiaco. He lived as a hermit with guidance from a monk named Romanus. After years of study as a hermit, other monks began to seek his counsel. Eventually he formed a series of monasteries in the surrounding area, with his most famous monastery at Monte Cassino. Benedict is known as the father of western monasticism, a patron saint of Europe, and his rule is followed by many. That Rule is a life of liturgical prayer, study, manual labor and living together in community under one abbot. It is interesting to note that Saint Benedict was not ordained, he was not a priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope; though many assume his name and have lived by his rule. The foundation of his life, rule, and order is prayer and work. Prayer and work, ora et labora,it is not one or the other but both. That, to this person, speaks to all and not exclusively the ordained. In his rule both are necessary for life and prayer does not turn into an occupation. In Benedict’s rule work is necessary to meet the earthly needs of every person. Every person has the need for food and shelter, to care for families. Every person also has the need for prayer to nourish their soul and place often hectic lives in the proper order. Prayer is what keeps ones life grounded in a capitalistic and consumer oriented society. It prevents possessions from taking over a person.
As I mentioned earlier one of the items that is recognizable to this saint is his medal or medallion. It is commonly incorporated into the crucifix, and the medals inscription summarize what is essential to Saint Benedict. On the face of the St. Benedict medal is the image of Saint Benedict holding the cross and his rule.On the back of the medal, is a large cross. Engraved on the arms of the cross are the initial letters of a Latin prayer: Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux! (May the holy cross be my light! May the dragon never be my guide!). Around the margin of the back of the medal are the initials V R S N S M V – S M Q L I V B : Vade retro Satana! Nunquam suade mihi vana! Sunt mala quae libas. Ipse venena bibas! translated Begone Satan! Never tempt me with your vanities! What you offer me is evil. Drink the poison yourself! These inscriptions neatly summarize the focus of his life, and are certainly words to remember today..