Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Feast of St. Benedict: Preached at Saint John’s in the Village, NYC Sunday, July 15, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero, OHC
The Feast of St. Benedict- Sunday, July 15, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. Josép Martínez-Cubero, OHC 
Most of what we know about Saint Benedict of Nursia comes from the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, written about sixty years after Benedict’s death. This work is a combination of biographical sketch and miracle stories, but there are things in it that we can receive as factual. Benedict was born around the year 480, in central Italy, to a noble family. He was educated in Rome, studying rhetoric and law, but was turned off by the excesses of the Roman society of the time. 

So Benedict decided to abandon the life in which he had been brought up, and taking his childhood nurse, traveled about 40 miles to Affide, a community at the foot of a mountain. He found a mentor named Romanus, a monk in a nearby monastery, who encouraged him to become a hermit. And so, Benedict lived as a hermit for three years, embracing prayer, silence, and solitude. During and after that time, stories of his miracles spread, and a community grew around him. He eventually founded twelve communities of monks in Subiaco, Lazio, Italy each with their own abbot, before moving to Monte Casino in the mountains of Italy where he lived in a thirteenth monastery as abbot with a few select brothers.

Benedict’s main achievement is a document he seems to have prepared throughout the duration of his life containing precepts for his monks, and which today is known as the Rule of Saint Benedict. The document is heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian, another Christian monk before his time, who is noted for his role in bringing the ideas and practices of Christian monasticism to the early medieval West. The Rule of Saint Benedict also shows to have been the editing and reworking of an earlier and very severe monastic rule called “The Rule of the Master. It is the only piece of Benedict’s writing we have, but what he adds, omits, rearranges, and revises from The Rule of the Master tells us more about him than any legend surrounding his life.

A rule is essentially a code of practice and discipline. Since the beginning of time, rules and laws have been important in the way faithful people live their lives. Some rules delineate a code of justice thought to be pleasing to God. There is no need to figure out what is right or wrong but what the rule says and follow it because it pleases God. Other rules define how to live in community in a code of holiness. The aim with these kinds of rules is that all should be treated equally as beloved children of God. This way of living requires constant prayer and discernment, and it is, at times, messy business. So is the Rule of Saint Benedict, which can be an unappealing document for anyone who is looking for a fixed set of regulations.
Benedict’s Rule is a reflection steeped in Scripture that describes a way to live in community so that the Reign of God can be manifested. It is a human journey into the heart of God. It called for a community where all had the same access to books for their education; a community where all ate the same adequate amount of food and drink; a community where all had a voice, even the newest members. It sadly sounds like an ideal that could make many political and religious leaders of our day very uncomfortable.
I come to you today from Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY. It is one of the houses of The Order of the Holy Cross, an international Benedictine order of men in the Anglican Communion. At West Park, we are a multigenerational and diverse community of eighteen men. Among other things, I serve my community as the Director of Associates of Holy Cross, 415 men, and women who we support, and who support us in all our ministries. The Associates of Holy Cross is what in other Benedictine communities is called Oblate Program. 

Oblates are Christians who desire to live out their Baptismal Covenant in association with a monastic order, and inspired by Benedict's Rule. Associates of Holy Cross are not only recipients of our blessings, but are also a source of blessings and help for our monastery. I share this with you today because we monks are flawed human beings, just as anyone else, but who have made the radical (and awesome!) choice to live in a monastery. But our associates are deacons, and priests and bishops, yes, but also students, doctors, housewives, carpenters, accountants, teachers, musicians, lawyers, grandparents, single mothers and single fathers, partnered or married parents, and the list goes on and on! Our associates are from all walks of life, and from around the world. In their association with us, our three-fold monastic vow of obedience, stability, and conversion of life becomes the three principles by which they center their lives. So I want to share with you a few thoughts about each of these three principles.
Obedience is not a particularly popular word today, and in fact, can be thought of, if misunderstood, as potentially dangerous in the world we live in. The Latin root for obedience is “obaudire”, to listen thoroughly. The very first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is “Listen.” Benedict asks us to listen to his instructions with the ear of the heart. Not just with the mind as in an intellectual exercise, but also with the heart, which is the root of love. So we lovingly listen to the voice of God speaking to us in Sacred Scripture, and the traditions of the Church. We lovingly listen in our daily circumstances and relationships. We lovingly listen to the words of other people. We lovingly listen to our own hearts. By lovingly listening, we carefully discern God’s will and translate it into action.
Stability, “to stay put”, makes us confront our tendencies to avoid God, others, and ourselves. All too often we use our free times to escape into fantasies that remove us from the present moment. Through the monastic principle of stability, we engage in the hard, ongoing, and transformative work of being present where God has called us and where our choices have lead us. And we engage in the radical love that challenges us to learn about, respect, honor, and even celebrate what has been called the otherness of the other, in all his or her difference, and wonder.
Conversion of life is central to Benedictine life and has to do with the paschal mystery of death and life as it is lived out daily through a lifetime. It is about being broken and renewed. It is about being in the hands of the living God who meets us most reliably at the point of our temptations, self-doubts, and discomforts with a never-ending invitation to holiness. Conversion of life reminds us of the central symbol of transformation in Christianity- a naked, bleeding human nailed to a cross. It reminds us that there cannot be resurrection before crucifixion. It reminds us that there is a broken, wounded part inside each and every one of us, and that the one thing we all have in common as human beings is our powerlessness. And we can only come to terms with this when we grow in humility.
The longest chapter of Benedict’s Rule is on the subject of humility. Humility requires radical self-honesty, and a total acceptance of who we are with all our unchangeable past, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures. It requires that we surrender and learn to love those parts about ourselves that we think of as unlovable so that our capacity to love can widen. Humility is essential for an individual or a community to flourish because it guides us in having respectful and loving interactions with others. The humble is able to respect the dignity of every human being (even the particularly undignified politician) because the humble knows we all are in need of mercy daily. The humble knows that calling evil what it is, is an act of love, but we must do so without engaging in verbal or social violence. It is only through humility that we can ground ourselves in our true identity as people who are called to overcome evil with good.
The Benedictine call then, is to be a people willing to be passionately caring; a people willing to be a challenge and example to our society as a whole; a people willing to be in the world, but not of the world; a people willing to stand at the margins of society so that we can see what really is; a people willing to meet the pain and inner death that comes with seeing the real. We do it trusting that God is always able to bring new life out of all loss. We do it with the confidence that God, who shatters our expectations and surpasses our understanding, only desires for us to evolve into the fullness of the image in which we are made. Holy Father Benedict, pray for us. ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+


  • Terrence G. Kardong, OSB, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2016)
  • Jane Tomaine, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, Revised Edition (Church Publishing, 2015)
  • Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict (Church Publishing, 2004)
  • Rule for Associates of Holy Cross, 1998
  • Br. Randy Greeve, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul- Holy Cross Monastery, June 29, 2018
  • Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery, July 11, 2015
  • Br. Scott Wesley Borden, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery- July 11, 2012
  • Br. Robert Leo Sevensky, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery, July 11, 2010

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