Saint Benedict

Little is known of the early life of Benedict, except that he was born about the year 480 in Nursia, in north central Italy. He may have been of noble lineage, and he had a sister, Scholastica, herself a saint, who from childhood vowed herself to God.

While a teenager, Benedict left his school in Rome to seek solitude in a remote hilltop village called Enfide. While staying here, Benedict miraculously mended an earthen sieve that his servant had broken. In an attempt to evade the notariety that this action brought, he soon left Enfide in search of complete seclusion. Benedict found isolation in a cave near Subiaco and lived there for three years.

St. Gregory tells us that "on a certain day when he was alone the tempter presented himself. A small dark bird, commonly called a blackbird, began to fly around his face and came so near him that, if he had wished, he could have seized it with his hand. But on his making the sign of the cross, the bird flew away. Then followed a violent temptation of the flesh, such as he had never before experienced. The evil spirit brought before his imagination a woman whom he had formerly seen, and inflamed his heart with such vehement desire at the memory of her that he had very great difficulty in repressing it. He was almost overcome and thought of leaving his solitude. Suddenly, however, with the help of divine grace, he found the strength he needed. Seeing near at hand a thick growth of briars and nettles, he stripped off his habit and cast himself into the midst of them and plunged and tossed about until his whole body was lacerated. Thus, through his bodily wounds, he cured the wounds of his soul." He was never again tempted in this way.

Benedict's fame grew as a result of the stories of his miraculous actions. Soon a nearby community of monks requested that Benedict come and serve them as their abbot. These monks were very lax in their religious practices, and secretly desired Benedict's presence only for the increased offerings that his fame would generate. Benedict declined their offer explaining that his strict adherence to fasting, prayer, and discipline would not mix well with their habits. Only after repeated pleas from the monks did Benedict reluctantly accept the position. As Benedict had foreseen, the monks soon grew tired of his ways and poisoned his wine. When Benedict blessed his cup by making the sign of the cross over it, it crumbled into pieces. After this attempt on his life, Benedict left the brothers and returned to his secluded cave.

Devoted brothers of various communities began to seek Bededict to learn from his example of piety, discipline, and sanctity. It was from these disciples that Benedict formed his first monasteries. In Benedict's monasteries, he emphasized the importance of manual labor. He introduced the idea that labor was dignified and necessary for a truly pious life. Manual work became compulsory for all Benedictine monks, even those of noble backgrounds. "He who works prays," became the motto of Benedictine life.

A local priest named Florentius, himself an evil man, was jealous of the success of Benedict's communities. He tried many tactics to undermine Benedict. Benedict soon realized that Florentius' attacks were meant for him personally, so to spare his brethren he retreated to Monte Cassino, a place which had been given to him by the grateful parents of one of his students at a Benedictine school. Monte Cassino had once been a wonderful place but had fallen into ruin. The grounds were uncultivated and unfit for farming. The residents had fallen back into paganism, and frequently made sacrifices to Apollo in an old temple on the mountain. After much fasting and prayer, Benedict converted several local residents and succeeded in destroying the pagan temple. He built two oratories on the site dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. Martin. Soon the most famous abbey in the world would be located on this site. Benedict laid the foundation about the year 520.

Totila, King of the Goths, had heard of Benedict and wished to meet him. Totila wanted to test Benedict to see if he really possessed miraculous powers. He dressed one of his guards in his usual attire, and sent him with three escorts to visit Benedict. Benedict was not fooled. He spoke to the guard, "My son, take off what thou art wearing; it is not thine." The guard was dumbfounded by Benedict's wisdom and hurried to report the news to Totila.

Totila himself visited Benedict and was so inspired by him that he knelt before him in awe. Benedict warned Totila that he had done much evil and should change his ways to at least end his life with honor. He foretold that Totila would enter Rome, cross the sea, would reign for nine years and then die. Totila begged Benedict to pray for him and reverse his fortune. Totila did go to Rome, and later sailed to Sicily. In ten years he lost his crown and then died. It is said that after his encounter with Benedict he was less cruel.

In the year 550, Benedict told his disciples to dig a grave. As soon as it was completed, Benedict became weak with fever and after six days died. He was buried on the site of the altar of Apollo that he had destroyed in the name of Jesus Christ. Beside him is buried his sister, St. Scholastica.

Benedict's symbols are a blackbird, a broken sieve, a rose bush, a scourge, a dove, a globe of fire, or a luminous stairway ascending into heaven. He is often depicted with King Totila kneeling at his feet. The feast of Saint Benedict is celebrated March 21.



Church of Saint Benedict

2200 W Ithica St, Broken Arrow, OK 74012
(918) 455-4451