Today is the memorial of St. Benedict of Nursia. For those who live according to the Rule of St. Benedict it is a major feast. Benedict is thought to have been born around AD 480 and died around AD 550. In response to the degeneracy of Rome--a degeneracy the US has surpassed--he became a hermit in Subiaco where he attracted his first followers. He later went to Monte Cassino. The monastery he founded there, though destroyed several times, including by Allied bombs in 1944, was a religious and cultural hub of Europe for centuries. It remains an active community of Benedictine monks.
Benedict wrote his rule for monks at Monte Cassino. The Prologue is a masterpiece of concise theology: "Listen carefully, my son, to the master's instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart. This is the advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice. The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through disobedience." In just fifty-three words Benedict described a fundamental truth.
"Attend . . . with the ear of your heart." How often do we truly listen with the ear of the heart? Under the term "listen" in his Dictionary of Biblical Theology the late Xavier Leon-Dufour, S.J. writes, "Now according to the Hebraic meaning of the word truth, to listen, to receive the Word of God, is not only to lend it an attentive ear but also to open one's heart to it; it is to put it into practice, that is, to obey. Such is the preaching of faith which preaching that is heard demands."
In his encyclical Lumen Fidei, (Light of Faith) the Holy Father describes faith as hearing and sight. Pope Francis quotes Paul's Letter to the Romans when he notes "faith comes from hearing." Faith comes from hearing the Word of God as it is revealed in scripture, both proclaimed aloud at Mass and read in the silence of one's room. Faith comes from listening with that ear of the heart that Benedict described. That is a particular form of hearing that grows from the personal relationship with Jesus to which each of us is called.
We live in a physically and socially noisy world. Noise caused by traffic, air conditioners, background music, television, crowds of people, . . . sometimes despite our desire to listen we cannot hear above the din, we cannot hear above the distractions of daily life. In today's gospel Jesus, through his instructions to the apostles, is telling us how to hear, how to attune the ear of our hearts to the Word of God in two words, 'travel light.'
Just as we sometimes cannot hear a person across the table from us in a restaurant because of the noise--a problem that is increasing by the year--we cannot listen to the Word of God when we are burdened by too much baggage and by too much stuff. Jesus is emphasizing to the apostles he is sending on mission-- he is emphasizing to us--the need for detachment from material things that are a source of much of the spiritual noise in our lives.
We are more attentive, we are more open, when our minds are not cluttered with concern for material things, power, and prestige. When we are not preoccupied with possessions, we are more open to hearing God's Word in its many iterations.
Listen with the ear of your heart. Hear the Word of the Lord. Share what you hear, with those around you.
Leaving Slovenia in two days for home. Mixed feelings about leaving and mixed feelings about returning to the U.S. Will discuss next assignment with provincial in two weeks.
The photos are from St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA, the first monastery of Benedictine men in the U.S., founded by Boniface Wimmer, OSB over two hundred years ago. Along with the archabbey there is a seminary and St. Vincent College. I made a few retreats in Latrobe and may go there again this year. Beautiful place and hospitable community.
The holy oils.
The monastic church. This was the location for Arnold Palmer's funeral.
Going down the back steps of the monastery toward the ponds.
Alas, the coffee shop run by students is no longer there. Every day during retreat I went there with some reading and slowly sipped huge cups of coffee. The coffee at meals at the archabbey left a bit to be desired: flavor and a temperature higher than room.
The ponds are for water purification. Beautiful grounds. I made the retreat in October. Fantastic time to be in western Pennsylvania.
The monastery itself is not particularly attractive. The original one burned in the sixties. Alas, it was during the time of brutalism. The rooms are comfortable but the visual impact of the monastery suggests college dorm.
Boniface Wimmer's statue in front of the church.
The sacristy with albs for Mass.
Graveyard. With 200 years of history the graveyard is very large.
Fr. Jack, SJ, MD