Saints Made for Sinners

Yes, you read that right: saints made for sinners. The feast of All Benedictine Saints is a huge encouragement to those of us who are constantly sliding into sin and failure. We don’t want saints who seem to have led impossibly holy lives from their mother’s womb: the kind who never say an unkind word or do an ungenerous act, who have a natural attraction to prayer and penance and everything we have to struggle with. Nor do we want saints whose lives are incredibly dramatic, full of road-to-Damascus conversions and deeds of holy derring-do. We want saints who are ordinary; who battle with temptation much as we do; who become holy through lives of unspectacular fidelity and goodness. In short, we want saints made of the same material as we are, because we too want to become holy, and if the only model of holiness available to us were the extraordinary one sketched above, we would be spiritual no-hopers.

The fact that we aren’t spiritual no-hopers is largely attributable to all those obscure  saints whose names we’ll never know this side of eternity but who became people the Light shone through. Among them must be thousands of Benedictines — monks, nuns, sisters, oblates and confraters. They show us that we too can become holy, just by being what we are meant to be. There is nothing grand or heroic about being a Benedictine, nothing particularly inspiring. We are spiritual plodders, the ‘poor bloody infantry’ of the Church, serving together under the same banner, standing side by side in the fraterna acies of the community and gradually — oh, how gradually! — learning what it means to follow Christ the Lord. We fight the good fight with what St Benedict called the strong and glorious weapons of obedience and hope, one day, to share everlasting life with all who have loved and served God. Let us ask the prayers of the Benedictine saints we commemorate today, that we too may be granted the grace of perseverance and attain the goal for which we strive.


1,000 Blog Posts and Reaching for the Stars

For someone who loves symmetry, it is rather nice that the 1,000th blog post to appear on iBenedictines should co-incide with the feast of All Benedictine Saints and our waiting to hear whether the historic landing of the Philae robot on Comet 67P is going to be as successful as we all hope it will. We are reaching for the stars at every level!

One of the most amazing things to have happened in my lifetime is the exploration of space. To have watched the moon landings as I did as a child; to have pored over those beautiful photos made possible by the Hubble telescope; to have looked at Mars or the grey surface of 67P is something undreamed of, a wonder and a joy that, to me, speaks of God. What mind, what heart, conceived these things and holds them in being? The Benedictine Saints we commemorate today did not see any of these astronomical wonders, but they knew ‘the Love that moves the Sun and lesser stars’. And because they knew that Love they have left us both example and encouragement.

‘Reaching for the stars’ may be a rather corny expression, but I think it captures that sense of voyaging into the unknown, of striving for holiness that characterises Benedictine life. People sometimes think that becoming a monk or nun must turn one in on oneself, makes one’s universe shrink. If it does that, there is something very wrong going on. The opposite should be true. One’s horizons should expand, just as one’s heart should expand with the inexpressible sweetness of love as one runs along the path of God’s commandments. (RB Prologue 49) Blogging, too, if it is all about seeking admiration or star-ratings is, for the monastic practitioner, another wrong turn. I am grateful that this blog has managed to pursue its own quirky path with what I hope is its own quirky integrity for 1,000 posts. You, the readers, help make it what it is, but any success it has cannot be measured in numbers, only in its ability, or otherwise, to make people think and, I hope, draw closer to God.

St Benedict ends his chapter on Good Zeal with the hope that Christ may bring us all together to everlasting life. That is the prayer of the community here today for all who light on these pages, and for all whose lives we touch or who touch our own.