Survey the Internet or visit a bookstore and you may find scores of books about the Church, books that explore the Church’s history, theology and spirituality. Expand your search to include the plethora of news and commentary available in print and online and you will find that the Church will likely be included in the headlines. Books about the Church sell. News about the Church captures the culture’s attention.
A careful look at all this writing and reporting and you will discover that much of what is written about the Church is presented as an expose- calling attention to ways in which the Church and its representatives are implicated in what is seedy, unlawful and unsavory. Much of this begs us to consider how an institution capable of so much corruption can continue to be taken seriously.
The Gospels present a question raised in regards to the Lord Jesus- “Can anything good come from Nazareth.” The question of the day seems to be “Can anything good come from the Church.”
The answer is yes. And the saint the Church celebrates today is a case in point.
Saint Benedict was born in the year 480 AD into a family of means, but the allure of wealth, pleasure, power and honors could not gain mastery over him. Around the year 500 AD he eschewed the privileges that the world would have accorded him and he withdrew into solitude, seeking insight from the Lord Jesus, asking him in prayer if there might be an alternative way of life, a way of life through which he might become ever more Christ-like.
Convinced that such a way of life was possible, he founded communities of men and women who would give their lives over to the Lord Jesus in a manner that was radical. They would commit themselves wholly and completely to the Church’s mission by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They would share their gifts and resources, dedicating their possession to the common good. They would live their faith publicly and boldly through works of mercy, hospitality and study.
In these ways, these Benedictine men and women would become a creative minority and through their unique way of life, effect the transformation of the culture. From these Benedictine communities of intentional disciples thousands upon thousands of people would come to know the Lord Jesus and share in his life in communion with his Church.
But Benedict’s movement was not only religious, but also cultural.
Providence was directing Benedict’s efforts because as the unity imposed by Rome on the disparate cultures of Europe dissolved, the communities of St. Benedict would become the means by which European civilization would be preserved and move forward.
It is not an understatement to say that what is best about our own civilization, what remains in our culture that is good and true and beautiful, owes a debt of gratitude to Saint Benedict and his way of life.
The Church, (of which each of us is but one small, but necessary part), has a long history and our own personal histories are embedded in the Church’s story. This history, this story, because it is a deeply human story, includes good and bad, virtue and vice, shadows and light, saints and sinners. Told from one side, the story is incomplete. Understood in its totality, we see the great goodness that the Church bears into the world.
The life of St. Benedict reminds us of the totality of the Church’s story, but his story should also provoke us from the complacency that so often results from a narrowness of mind and heart.
The story of the Church is not only a tale of woe, it is also the story of men like St. Benedict, and our own story as well.