In the Cave of St. Benedict

By Judith Sutera, OSB

Editor's note: Sisters from Mount St. Scholastica write a weekly column titled "View from the Mount" for our hometown newspaper, the Atchison Globe. This column appeared in the July 9, 2016, edition of the Globe.

Sister Judith SuteraThis Monday, July 11, we will be celebrating the Feast of St. Benedict. Most people who live in Atchison know that there are two monasteries in town, one of Benedictine sisters and one of Benedictine monks, and a school called Benedictine College, but that may be about all they know about Benedictines. The two monasteries are named “St. Benedict’s Abbey” and “Mount St. Scholastica,” named for the saint and his sister, and the two saints are very important in the history of not only the Church but European culture.

So I thought it would be nice to say a little bit about St. Benedict, since he’s very important to Atchison as well. St. Benedict was born in Norcia, Italy in the year 480, just as the Christian faith was being firmly established and the Roman Empire was falling apart. He was sent to Rome to study as a youth, but rejected the student life and went off to the hills in the countryside to seek his true path in life. He lived in a cave for a while, underwent the natural temptations to give up this craziness and go back to the good times, and gradually became stronger in his resolve to live a life of prayer. 

Of course, people eventually heard about him and came to see what this was all about. The problem with going off to the quiet to pray and read Scripture is that, if we are really listening to God, we hear in the word of God that we have to help other people, both in pointing them towards God and in meeting their human needs. So Benedict was torn. If you visit the monastery in Subiaco, Italy, that is built over the place where he lived, there are actually two caves. One has a beautiful marble statue of him, looking rapt in prayer. The second just has a little plaque on the wall that says something to the effect that this was the shepherds’ cave where Benedict would come down to teach the people. You almost have an image of him happily communing with God and then hearing the cries of the people who needed him and heading out, perhaps feeling annoyed. Then probably, after being with them for a while, he might have felt, as even Jesus did at times, that there were too many of them with too many needs and that he needed to get away and refresh his own soul.

The plaque goes on to say something like “thereby forging the dual path that his followers would walk.” Who hasn’t had that feeling sometimes? We want to be alone to strengthen our relationship with God, but there are all these good things that need to be done, but we can’t keep drawing from an empty well, and round and round … and there we are, finding ourselves spending a lot of our time and energy running up and down, up and down, that path. 

Benedict knew that it’s hard to keep the balance. That’s why he made a structure for himself and his followers. The Rule of St. Benedict is full of lots of little details about how the day should go. All of the day is built around a framework of regular stops for prayer. If we make sure that the day begins and ends with some time devoted just to being with sacred reading and then having some quiet prayer with it, everything else that we do will feel more grounded and we will be strengthened to do what needs to be done.