Faith for the Journey of Life

My Thoughts on Faith, Life, and 2,000+ Years of Catholicism / Christianity

29 September 2006

St. Benedict and Pope Benedict XVI

[Author's Note:] This installment was originally written last year for another one of my Blogs but in light of the recent attacks upon Pope Benedict XVI, I have decided to update it and re-post it here.

Our current Pope derives his name from the great Saint Benedict, a man whose faith and life in the pursuit of Christ’s ideal initiated a spirituality and devotion to God that resonates to this day. It is difficult to summarize the spiritual impact that St. Benedict had upon Europe in just a few words. St. Benedict did not invent monasticism, nor was he the first to develop a Rule of Order for monasteries. St. Benedict took monasticism in new spiritual directions, reforming it and fostering its growth. His order devoted itself to teaching children, feeding the poor, preaching the Gospel, serving the sick and infirmed, and honoring the Father through prayer and worship. Under St. Benedict’s example and his Rule of Order, monasteries and monks spread Christianity and preserved European civilization. With its piety and simplicity, St. Benedict’s Rule was widely adopted and followed. As Church historian H. W. Crocker III has written, “He is the consummate example of the best of the Church.”(100).

For many years now, Europe has been in spiritual decline. In his book Memory and Identity, the late Pope John Paul II summarized Europe’s spiritual growth and post-Enlightenment decline. “So-called ‘Enlightened’ European thought tried to dissociate itself from this God-Man, who died and rose again, and every effort was made to exclude him from the history of the Continent,” he wrote. “This approach still has many stubbornly faithful adherents among thinkers and politicians of today.”(97).

Today, Europe is in need of spiritual revival. “There’s no doubt that the Catholic faith is doing better just about everywhere else in the world except Europe,” moral theologian Pia de Solenni wrote last year in the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor.

It has been widely reported that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger adopted the name of Benedict as a signal of his desire to renew Europe spiritually. Numerous popes throughout history have drawn inspiration from St. Benedict. Pope St. Gregory the Great included him in his Dialogues, describing his miraculous deeds and faith. Pope Pius XII called him “the Father of Europe.” Pope Paul VI declared him to be Europe’s patron saint. Thus far, sixteen popes have taken his name, including our new one. Of those Benedict popes, one has been canonized and another beatified.

In 1979, Pope John Paul II exhorted Europe to follow St. Benedict’s example. Now in 2006, a new Pope is drawing inspiration from him to renew Europe. Can one man really change the spiritual nature of Europe? At various times in Europe’s history, individual men and women have changed the spiritual nature of Europe. With the assistance of the Holy Spirit, it can be done again. In the 6th Century, a man named Benedict led Europe to a new spiritual plane; in this 21st Century, may God empower a new pope named Benedict to lead Europe back to its Christian heritage.

[Sources: Pope John Paul II’s Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium. NY: Rizzoli, 2005.; H.W. Crocker III’s Triumph: The Power and Glory of the Catholic Church (NY: Prima Publishing, 2001); Pia de Solenni’s “Pope Benedict XVI could bring hope back to Europe.” Our Sunday Visitor: 8 May 2005: 13.]


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