Reflection for the Vigil of the Passing of St. Benedict

By Jennifer Halling, OSB 

This evening, on the vigil of the passing of St. Benedict into eternal life, I am reminded of a story that Sr. Kathleen Flanagan told about Sr. Bettina Tobin after she died. Every day for many years, Sr. Bettina would go to the Choir Chapel and pray for three things: (1) that St. Scholastica would help her be a good sister; (2) that all decisions made by the community would be aligned with God’s will; and (3) that when it came time for her to die, St. Benedict would come to take her to heaven. It appears that Sr. Bettina’s prayers for a happy death were answered. After being hospitalized because of pneumonia and heart issues, she had just enough time before she died to call or have in-person visits with her family members. She was in good  spirits and confided to several sisters that she was excited to go and see what heaven was like. She wanted to die at the Mount, and within minutes after reaching her room and getting settled into bed, Benedict answered her prayer and whisked her away to her heavenly home. Although Benedict is not officially the patron saint of those seeking a happy death, Sr. Bettina made a wise choice in praying to him, because Benedict showed us in his life and Rule how to prepare ourselves for death. One element of the willingness to surrender our spirit at the time of death is to be at peace with others, with God, and with the way we have lived our life.
• When Benedict died he was at peace with his fellow monks, for as Pope Gregory the Great reported in The Dialogues, at his death Benedict was surrounded and supported by his brethren.
• His arms were raised in prayer as he died, so he was in communion with God until his last breath. We can see this scene played out in one of the windows of this very chapel.
• And Benedict certainly practiced what he preached in his Rule; he progressed in the monastic way of life and in faith and ran on the path of God’s commandments.

Benedict’s efforts to love God and neighbor above all else led to the vision he received late in life of the entire world being held in a single ray of light. When we understand the oneness of all things, our fear of death diminishes, because we understand that this oneness will continue after the death of our physical body.

I believe that Benedict was also strengthened and comforted as he prepared for death by seeing his sister Scholastica’s soul ascend to heaven in the form of a dove. In this way, she blazed a path that he could follow into eternal life.

As Peter proclaimed of himself in our Gospel reading this evening, Benedict did indeed leave everything to follow Christ. He left his family home and comfortable lifestyle, he let go of his physical desires, he gave up his life of solitude for the rigors of leadership and community life, and as we learned from his last visit with Scholastica, he even had to let go of his own reliance on rules when they provided an obstacle to love and compassion. Jesus told Peter that those who lose their life for his sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life, and Benedict had confidence in this promise, for in his Rule he said that we should prefer nothing whatever to Christ, that he may bring us all together to everlasting life.

If we want to have a happy death, then, we should commit ourselves to follow the example of St. Benedict. To the best of our ability, we should forgive, refrain from grumbling, and attempt to live in harmony with others. We should remain close to God in prayer until the moment of our death. We should do our best to give up our own desires and seek to align our will with God’s will so we don’t have to wrestle with regret
on our deathbed. We should trust in God’s promise of oneness and new life after death and take strength from the communion of saints, as we recall the wisdom of Sr. Bettina
and so many of our other sisters, family members, and friends. 

I’d like to close with the lyrics of the song May We Praise You by John Foley:

May we praise you, O Lord
With heart and hand and voice
And since life itself is your gift to us,
Then may all that we are be yours.

May our living be true.
May all return to you.
And when life is done, may our passing be
Like a birth into light of day.

Let your step guide our path.
Let shades of dark not last.
May the sun of justice return on high
and your love be our road and guide.

To the Father be praise,
to Son and Spirit, praise.
Unto God the one let all praise be done;
‘til the dawn of the lasting day,
may we praise


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