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The Way of Benedict | By Colleen Carroll Campbell |
The patron saint of the new Pope has some powerful lessons to teach
the Church today
When the 265th Pope emerged on the balcony of St. Peters Basilica
last month to meet his flock face to face, his first words were distinctly
"Dear brothers and sisters, after the great Pope John Paul II, the
cardinals have elected me a simple, humble worker in the vineyard
of the Lord."
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
now Pope Benedict XVI, had opted to take the name of a sixth-century saint
who has been credited with nothing less than the preservation of Western
Civilization and the creation of Christendom. During a dark period in
Europes history, when the superpower of Rome was collapsing under
the weight of barbarian attacks and its own internal decadence, St. Benedict
founded monasteries across Europe, sparking a religious revival that led
to the flourishing of medieval Christian culture.
As a leading theologian and student of Church history, Pope Benedict XVI
surely knows the parallels between St. Benedicts historical situation
and his own. On the day before his election, then-Cardinal Ratzinger warned
his fellow churchmen against the "dictatorship of relativism"
that endangers Western civilization. He explained that this relativism,
which denies the existence of absolute truth and exalts self-gratification
above all, poses a grave threat to the Church and the culture.
By taking St. Benedict as the patron for his papacy, this new shepherd
has made an important statement about how he intends to deal with the
challenge posed by our relativistic, hedonistic, materialistic culture.
He will combat it with the same weapons St. Benedict used in his day:
prayer, humility, and hard work.
St. Benedict believed deeply in the virtues of ora et labora
prayer and work. He counseled his followers to live disciplined lives
of humble service, lives that centered on what he called the "Work
of God": Christian worship. St. Benedict believed that worship must
stand at the center of the Christian life, infusing all other daily activities
with the spirit of Christ.
Yet St. Benedict also recognized the sanctifying potential of ordinary
work. In his Rule, he advises his monks on everything from how they should
wash their towels to how they should greet strangers at the door and how
they should make up their beds. Pulsing through these seemingly mundane
details is a sublime message: The duties of daily life matter because
they give us the chance to grow in humility, holiness, and joy.
Humble service and joyful hospitality are constant themes in Benedictine
spirituality. The saint urged his followers to greet others as if they
are greeting Jesus Christ himself, and to serve others as if they are
serving Christ. "No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself,
but instead, what he judges better for someone else," St. Benedict
said. "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ."
That motto "Christ before all" is one that the
new Pope has taken as his own. As Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn
told Vatican Radio last month, Pope Benedict XVI told the Cardinals that
he considers St. Benedict "a man of great faith" and the Benedictine
counsel to put Christ first "is and remains an example also for the
Indeed, St. Benedicts 1,500-year-old message of unflinching fidelity
to Jesus Christ and zealous pursuit of personal holiness is timelier today
than ever. By choosing to take the name of this simple, humble worker,
Pope Benedict XVI has revealed the path by which he wishes to lead the
Church in the coming years a path that begins in personal conversion
and ends in cultural transformation.
(This article originally appeared in the May 8, 2005 issue of Our
Sunday Visitor. It has been republished here by kind permission
of the author.)
Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics
and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and a former speechwriter
to President George W. Bush. A journalist who spent five years working
as a news and editorial writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Campbell
now serves as a frequent commentator on religion, politics, and culture
for such national media outlets as FOX News, PBS, and EWTN. She is the
author of The
New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy
(Loyola Press, 2002), which recently appeared in paperback. For more about Campbell's work, visit her
www.colleen-campbell.com and read an
April 2005 IgnatiusInsight.com interview with her.
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