FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT
Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
and Administrator of St. Paul of Wisques
(Wisques, March 21, 2015)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,
We celebrate today the day on which our Blessed Father St. Benedict was called to God, and we give thanks for the blessings that this life has brought, and for the gift that through him and his sons has been granted, and is still granted, to mankind.
St. Benedict’s undertaking has by far gone beyond the limits of the houses that he founded and of the times in which he lived. By the network of monasteries that were sown on our Old World countries, St. Benedict has made a major contribution to the foundation of Europe on the rock of Christian values. Come hell or high water, the Old World has stood fast and has even spread this civilisation,
especially in the African and American worlds.
St. Benedict does indeed deserve the title of “great confessor”. We have just sung: Blessed is the man that fears the Lord, that delights greatly in His commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon the earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. (Ps 111:1-2)
How can we explain such an influence? The sequence of the Mass calls him magni ducis, a great chief. Monks call him their Blessed Father. More than a chief, St. Benedict has been a Father. If he is the Father of Europe, it is because he has been first Father of his monks.
What is then this fatherhood that is not derived from the bonds of the flesh, and yet seems to hold fruitfulness, as can be seen in the monastic Order? The Apostles have forsaken all to follow Jesus. The same applies to monks. Monastic fatherhood is a living relationship, which conversely entails a living “sonship”. If St. Benedict has become the Father of Europe, it is because he had sons who passed on the heritage that they had received from their Father.
The very first word in the Holy Rule contains the whole spirituality of St. Benedict. A monk who would merely put it into practice would not have to worry about anything else. Ausculta, listen! Listen to him who speaks to you, and who is a master because he himself listens to another Master. Listen to him who speaks to you, and who is a father because he himself listens to another Father,
Who is also your own Father. Listen in order to follow, and to come into possession of the heritage, so that you too pass it on, listen in order to serve. The monastery is a school of listening, schola servitii Dei, the school where you learn to listen to God, the school where you learn to serve God. To serve God means to make one’s own the design of God, a design of happiness for each person.
Monasteries have converted Europe not by dint of laws that were revolutionary or going against nature, but merely because they existed and were attractive, because they were striving for man’s happiness. Monks would first arrive in some place, they would clear the land and settle in this place. The neighbours would wonder, consider, become interested, and eventually become steeped in the values of charity, self-sacrifice, peace, that would emanate from the monastic society. The face of Europe has thus changed in fifteen centuries.
Today’s new civilisation is, to quote the Holy Father, “the throw-away culture”. Everything that can no longer be used is thrown away. On the reverse, the Benedictine monk pronounces a vow of stability! Family, children, elderly people, couples, everything is called into question. All of them must become throwaway, disposable, interchangeable… The umbilical cord that ensures the passing on of life and love must be severed. The cords that link the child to his family, man to his wife, elderly people to their children, the child to his mother, all of them must be severed. The world that promotes human rights becomes a world of silence, loneliness and death, a world laid waste. The monastery, a place of silence, remains a place of listening.
The beginning of this twenty-first century will remain in history as marked by destruction: destruction of the remainders of pre-Christian civilisations in the Middle East, which causes such a turmoil in the international community, but also destruction of the foundations of European civilisation, welcomed with great satisfaction by the liberally-minded set. Whereas we speak quite readily of sustainable development, of waste recycling, how long will it take until mankind understands that sustainable development has no interest whatsoever except if there should remain a sustainable civilisation, namely a civilisation founded on a stable pattern that unconditionally ensures the respect due to every human being and family?
Responsible fatherhood means more to serve than to rule. The State has long since forgotten this maxim. St. Benedict reminds the Abbot of it. Those who cross the threshold of the monastic house are often tainted with an individualistic spirit, selfcentredness, the pursuit of pleasure, all of which corrupt human society. Inside the monastery they find a Father and brothers. As they humbly listen to their neighbour, as they generously practise obedience and mutual love, they rebuild themselves, and they strive, where they belong, to rebuild the world.
Before clearing lands and building roads, monks had first listened to God, followed and sought Him. Benedict has magnetised the human compass towards a safe and unchanging North. His has been a major contribution to the recovery of human dignity and freedom. The French thinker and writer Paul Valéry (1871-1945) would not gainsay this, for he wrote:
It will soon be necessary to build rigorously secluded cloisters where neither radio broadcasting nor newspapers will enter, where ignorance of all political life will be secured and safeguarded. There, men will spurn speed, numbers, effects due to mass, surprise, contrast, repetition, novelty, and gullibility. There we shall on appointed days go and contemplate through a grille a few specimens of free men. [Paul Valéry, Regards sur le monde actuel, « Fluctuations sur la liberté » (Considerations on Today’s World, “Fluctuations on Freedom”), 1938, Pléiade, t. II, p. 969.]
Let us apply to nations the words that St. Benedict addresses to his disciple: Where is the nation that desires life and loves to see good days? Listen, O Europe, as thou once didst, to the precepts of thy master, and “incline the ear of thy heart”, and cheerfully receive and faithfully execute the admonitions of thy loving Father… And then thou shalt with God’s help attain at last to the greater heights of knowledge and virtue which we have mentioned above.