Today is the Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, a red-letter day in my practice giving that my first parish cure was at St. Benedict’s in Smyrna. Benedict had an undeniable influence on Western Christianity, with the establishment and formalization of monasteries throughout the world. These centers of community grew and evolved–and reformed–throughout the centuries. My own particular home tradition of the Camaldolese, the particular monastic school I am associated with, are Benedictine. Whereas Benedict stressed the stability and commitment and discernment within a community, the Camaldolese added an element of contemplative silence. This community orientation (the coenobitic tradition) is held in tension with the silence of hermit practice (the eremitical tradition). Benedict lived about 1,500 years ago, and the Camaldolese began their renewal around 1,000 years ago. There have been other reform movements since then: Cluny, Citeaux (the Cistercians), and the Cistersians of the Strict Observance (Trappists), and others. Maybe we can learn a great deal about this growth, looking at how we, ourselves, are being called to grow and be renewed even today.
Here is a snippet of text from the appointed Gospel for his feast:
Mark 1:14-28 (NRSV)
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
This pericope hooked me because of its call to repent, to realize the in-coming of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Repentance is a profound practice, because it demands a reorientation. It is a movement, a renewal, a change in orientation that comes from a deeper awareness of how the Spirit is inviting a new way of understanding–a new awareness of God’s presence in the world. The movement is necessary, the reorientation. It is not enough–the Tradition teaches us–simply to acknowledge the need for repentance and continue on the same path.
More and more, I see how Christianity is really hard! It is a difficult practice, much more so than I was taught as a young child. Our Christian practice is a way of life, a reorientation of our existence–a perpetual reorientation, one could say.
In this way, Benedict is indeed a pivotal saint for us, as his legacy of successive monastic interpretations is a model for us to embody. (We must never forget that the roots of Anglicanism are essentially Benedictine!)