Monday, 4 April 2016

Feast of St Benedict (transferred)

The readings for the feast of St Benedict are set out below.

Nocturn I (Sirach 44:1-15)

Reading 1:Speak we now in honour of famous men that were our fathers, long ago. What high achievements the Lord has made known in them, ever since time began!  Here were men that had power and bore rule, men that excelled in strength, or in the wisdom that dowered them; prophets that worthily upheld the name of prophecy,

Reading 2: issuing to the people the commands their times needed, uttering, through their foresight, a sacred charge to the nations. Here were men that had skill to devise melodies, to make songs and set them down in writing.  Here were men rich in ability, noble of aim, that dwelt peacefully in their homes.  These were the glories of their race, the ornament of their times;

Reading 3: and the sons they begot have left a memory that adds to the recital of their praise.  Not like those others, who are forgotten in death as if they had never been; nameless, they and their children, as if they had never lived;  no, these were men of tender conscience; their deeds of charity will never be forgotten. Blessings abide with their posterity;

Reading 4: their descendants are a race set apart for God, the pledged heirs of his promises. For their sakes this line of theirs will endure for all time; their stock, their name, will never be allowed to die out. Their bodies lie in peace; their name lasts on, age after age.  Their wisdom is yet a legend among the people; wherever faithful men assemble, their story is told.

Nocturn II

Reading 5: Benedict was born of a noble family at Norcia, about the year of our Lord 480, and studied letters at Rome. Desiring to give himself altogether to Christ Jesus, he betook himself to a very deep cave at the place now called Subiaco. In this place he lay hid for three years, unknown to all except the monk Romanus, by means of whom he received the necessaries of life. While he was in the cave at Subiaco, the devil one day assailed him with an extraordinary storm of impure temptation, and to get it under, he rolled himself in brambles till his whole body was lacerated, and the sting of pain drove out the sallies of lust.

Reading 6: At last the fame of his holiness spread itself abroad from the desert, and some monks came to him for guidance, but the looseness of their lives was such that they could not bear his exhortations, and they plotted together to poison him in his drink. When they gave him the cup, he made the sign of the Cross over it, whereupon it immediately broke, and Benedict left that monastery, and retired to a desert place alone.  Nevertheless his disciples followed him daily, and for them he built twelve monasteries, and set holy laws to govern them.

Reading 7: Afterwards he went to Cassino, and brake the image of Apollo which was still worshipped there, overturned the altar, and burnt the groves. There, in the year 529, he built the Church of St Martin and the little chapel of St John; and instilled Christianity into the townspeople and inhabitants. He grew in the grace of God day by day, so that being endowed with the spirit of prophecy he foretold things to come. When Totila, King of the Goths, heard of it, and would see whether it really were so, he sent his Spatharius before him, with the kingly ensigns and attendance, and feigning himself to be Totila. But as soon as Benedict saw him he said: My son, put off that which thou wearest, for it is not thine. To Totila himself he foretold that he would go to Rome, would cross the sea, and would die after nine years.

Reading 8: Some months before he departed this life, Benedict forewarned his disciples on what day he was to die; and he ordered his grave to be opened six days before he was carried to it. On the sixth day, being the 21st of March, in the year 543, he would be carried into the Church, where he received the Eucharist, and then, in the arms of his disciples, with his eyes lifted up to heaven, and wrapt in prayer, he gave up the ghost. Two monks saw his soul rising to heaven, clothed in a most precious garment, and surrounded with lights, and One of a most glorious and awful aspect standing above, Whom they heard saying This is the way whereby Benedict, the beloved of the Lord, goeth up to heaven.

Nocturn III (Sermon of St Peter Damian on St Benedict)

Reading 9: 'Behold, we have forsaken all and followed thee.Solemn word, mighty undertaking, a holy work and one worthy of blessing, to leave all things and follow Christ. These are the persuasive words of voluntary poverty, which have brought forth monasteries, and filled the cloister with monks and the woods with anchorites. These are the words of which  the Church sings: 'By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.'  We shall receive rest for our  labour, riches for our poverty, a reward for our tribulation. It  is a great thing to forsake all, but to follow Christ is a greater;  for we read of many who have left all but who have not followed Christ. This is our task, this our labour; in this lies the essence of human salvation; nor can we follow Christ unless we forsake all, for He rejoices as a strong man to run a race, and he who bears a load cannot follow.

Reading 10: 'Behold' he says, 'we have forsaken all' not only the riches  of this world but the desires of the soul too; for he who holds on to the self has not forsaken all. And it is useless to abandon other things if we do not abandon ourselves, since man's heaviest burden is man himself. What tyrant is more cruel to man, what power more savage, than his own will ? Under its sway you can never rest or sit at your ease, and the more it wearies you in enforcing obedience to itself, the more it goads and stings and weighs you down, being unmindful of kindness and a stranger to mercy. This is the nature of self-will: the more obedient its subject, the more cruelly is he bound in its chains.  'What shall we have therefore?' Peter has forsaken all; not only is he following, he has followed for a long time; and now for the first time he asks what he will receive. What, Peter ? Did you not promise obedience to the voice? You made no contract with the Lord. But listen to what the Lord God says, and await that hope in which, in this uncertain world, we must confide. ' 'You shall sit', says the Lord who is Truth. Splendid sitting, welcome rest, full sufficiency.

Reading 11: But lest our long awaiting should mar the sweetness of His promise, He controls the restlessness of our minds with a sweeter word. Tor he knoweth our frame; He knows that  our weakness cannot brook delays; in His loving kindness He meets this problem and counteracts it, saying: 'And everyone that hath forsaken house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.' "The mouth of them that speak lies shall be stopped'; now all they who transgress without cause are ashamed.  For we have promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come;  and it is clear that the promise of receiving a hundred-fold applies to this life, since the words which follow are 'and shall inherit everlasting life'.

Reading 12:Those who have not yet received the hundredfold reward must scrutinize their hearts and diligently examine all the work of their hands; they will certainly find some corner or lodging-place unknown to the Saviour.And what is our hundredfold reward but the  consolations, the visitations and the firstfruits of the Spirit, sweeter than honey; the witness of our consciences; the joyous and lovely expectation of the just, the memory of God's abundant sweetness, the great multitude of His delights, of which there is no need to tell those who have known them, just as it is impossible to describe them to those who have not known them.There is no one to whom all this exposition of our text
better applies than to our father and master St. Benedict. He forsook die world and all its flowers in boyhood to run with strong strides after the running Christ; and he did not rest until he had caught up with Him.


Today is the feast of the translation of the relics of St Benedict in the Benedictine and Novus Ordo calendars.  The Gospel for the feast is St Matthew 19:27-29:

27 Tunc respondens Petrus, dixit ei: Ecce nos reliquimus omnia, et secuti sumus te: quid ergo erit nobis? 28 Jesus autem dixit illis: Amen dico vobis, quod vos, qui secuti estis me, in regeneratione cum sederit Filius hominis in sede majestatis suæ, sedebitis et vos super sedes duodecim, judicantes duodecim tribus Israël. 29 Et omnis qui reliquerit domum, vel fratres, aut sorores, aut patrem, aut matrem, aut uxorem, aut filios, aut agros propter nomen meum, centuplum accipiet, et vitam æternam possidebit.

27 Hereupon Peter took occasion to say, And what of us who have forsaken all, and followed thee; what is left for us? 28 Jesus said to them, I promise you, in the new birth, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of his glory, you also shall sit there on twelve thrones, you who have followed me, and shall be judges over the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And every man that has forsaken home, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive his reward a hundredfold, and obtain everlasting life. (Knox translation)

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