Today we celebrate the second feast of St Benedict, the Translatio or Translation of the Relics, and pay special attention to his role as patron of Europe. It is easy to see why. The so-called Benedictine centuries saw the formation of Europe as we know it, with the preservation of much Classical culture being the work of monks and nuns. But if celebrating St Benedict were simply an exercise in celebrating the past, I think we would be guilty of something he himself would have censured. For St Benedict, as for every Benedictine, an intensely personal quest for Christ was joined to a profound sense of the importance of community, of the value of the present moment and the necessity of choosing between good and evil. It was never a celebration of the past as such, but a building on the past as a way into the future. We do not always see the choices before us in the stark terms the Rule suggests, but Benedict is insistent on the life or death consequences of the choices we make. He warns, he advises, but above all he encourages us to advance in virtue so that we may love God and the brethren with a pure and undivided heart.
Today we can look at the world around us, especially Europe, and be dismayed by the divisions we see. We can lament the disintegration of much that is familiar, deplore the weakening of the values that went into the construction of Europe over many centuries and indulge in a little unprofitable nostalgia But if we are to be true to St Benedict, we must be prepared to start again. Every day we begin anew the buiilding of the city of God. The shape, the form, the material elements will vary; but the task remains the same. St Benedict’s great gift to the world was that of looking forwards, not backwards, of holding nothing dearer to him than Christ. One can say he had such a lively sense of the Church’s Tradition that he knew it would carry him where he had never been before, and he was not afraid.
Today, we thank God for St Benedict and for the wisdom and inspiration that has come down to us from him and his followers in every age and place. We ask for a share in his courage and vision and, above all, his determination to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. May that guide us in the way we are meant to go.