July 11: Feast of St. Benedict
The joy of a holiday “holy day” always seems to be surrounded with some sort of commercialism. We see Christmas items in the stores around Halloween and Thanksgiving sneaks up on us if we don’t happen to catch those Butterball advertisements. So, I have come to truly appreciate the Feast of St. Benedict not only as a Benedictine sister but also for the sheer bliss of a celebration that is not “marketed”.
Several years ago, the Church changed the Feast of St. Benedict from a solemnity to a memorial feast. When you look in your lectionary based prayer books, you might find a reference to this feast on July 11th but not much more than that. As strange as it sounds, the obscurity of this day in the midst of the life of the Church feels appropriate to me. And this is why…
When we read the Dialogues of St. Gregory, Life of Saint Benedict, we realize that this humble and holy Saint really never wanted any fanfare. His goal in leaving the nobility of his family and the privilege of an expensive formal education in sixth century Rome was precisely to live his life in obscurity and seek the God he loved. Benedict never intended to write a Rule that would exist for sixteen hundred years and influence the lives of millions of monastics over the centuries. He was even reluctant to be the “leader” of a small group of monastics in his own day. But his followers insisted. The Rule was written for a local community in a particular period of history and yet it has been a guide for Christian communal life throughout the world ever since. Benedict’s life of prayer and his desire to be obedient (to listen) to God was his sole (or soul’s) motivation for his leadership and writing his “little rule for the school of the Lord’s service”.
Now when you think about it, St. Benedict’s wisdom is not still around by accident. I mean Benedict has these really crazy ideas, telling us that our way of life must be different than the worlds, encouraging us to have “good zeal fostered by fervent love” and he literally tells us to “earnestly compete in obedience to one another”. Really!!! Did I read that right? Yes, yes I did. Benedict encourages us to live in a way that is not self-seeking or exploitive. With non-self-centered thinking like that, it’s a wonder that the rule was not abandoned or even burned long ago.
God’s whisperings to a man who really desired obscurity makes our community’s simple celebration of the Feast of St. Benedict very special to me. I am reminded each year that there is so much that God can accomplish when we, like Benedict are willing to really listen to our deepest urgings toward God. And anything that is accomplished is not by my/our doing but the fruit of living an obscure life with ideas and behaviors rooted in a little rule designed to keep our focus not on commercialism and worldly success but on God. May you know the joys, the bliss of obscurity.
Happy Feast of St. Benedict!
Ana Cloughly, OSB