Wait Three Days

The fall of Rome didn’t happen overnight — it was a centuries long process as the Empire declined in stair steps from, say, Marcus Aurelius (121-180) — the last ‘good emperor’, to the THIRD sack of Rome in 546. The Catholic Church stepped into this power vacuum — to ‘keep the lights on’ as much as anything. Thus St. Benedict (480-547) lived in the decades in which the decayed imperial city became the Rome of the medieval papacy.

Benedict was born to a goodly family, who educated him in Roman schools. Appalled by the state of affairs in Rome, he became a hermit and lived for three years in a cave. Fame of his sanctity spread, and he was persuaded to become the abbot of a local monastery. Some welcomed his enthusiastic leadership, others not so much (an attempt was even made to poison him). After various intrigues he became abbot at a monastery in Cassino (halfway between Rome and Naples).

Although he started out as a hermit, Benedict realized that this path is not for most, and focused his attention on community. Indeed, he’s most famous for his Rule of Benedict — something of a Constitution, a rule-book for how to run a monastery. He had a shrewd pragmatism. For example, he didn’t want the monastery to be a financial burden to the community — they might not have the resources to spare! Yet the monks still had to eat. So he established the practice of the monastery having a ‘business’ that put his ‘free labor pool’ (the monks) to use — making brandy, or cheese, or wine, for example. This had the benefit of keeping the monks busy in useful work, funding the monastery and making it financially possible to do charitable work in the community such as providing education to the youth, hand-copying books (not just the Bible) and medical care. One of his slogans was “Ora et Labora” — Latin for “Pray and Work.”

The Rule of Benedict became the model for monasteries throughout Europe. And the monastic industries and practical support they provided their local communities were a foundation for the gradual rebuilding of the European economy. Indeed, perhaps we see echoes of Benedict’s ideas in ministries like Home Boys where ex-gang-members are given a job baking bread while receiving the counseling and support they need to reenter society.

Benedict also didn’t think it should be easy to become a monk. Quoting from the Rule of Benedict:

Do not grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry, but, as the Apostle says, Test the spirits to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). Therefore, if someone comes and keeps knocking at the door, and if at the end of four or five days he has shown himself patient in bearing his harsh treatment and difficulty of entry, and has persisted in his request, then he should be allowed to enter…

And being granted entry was just the beginning of a long probationary period and many tests before one could become a full-fledged monk.

I’m seeing a common thread here: perseverance!

The Disciple’s Resolve

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