Today we keep the feast of All Benedictine Saints. There are, as you might expect, very many of them, not all of them canonised. They are part of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ surrounding us whom we tend to take for granted but who are sometimes vividly present to us. Most of us have our personal favourites among them from whom we draw inspiration and courage. I, for instance, have always had a devotion to the Anglo-Saxons, the nuns especially, but I don’t think there are any distinctions of race, sex or nationality in heaven. As far as I’m concerned, the saintly wearers of the Black habit and the White command my love and respect, irrespective of what they were or where they came from in this life. St Benedict himself was insistent that ‘we are all one in Christ and serve under the banner of the same Lord’ (RB 2.20) and I like to think that Benedictines today are just as mindful of our unity in Christ transcending everything else.
It isn’t easy, of course. We live in a world where competitiveness has become the norm and, in the West at least, status is much craved and invariably linked to how much we have. The radical dispossession of the monk or nun makes no sense in such an environment, but there is worse. Many people have an idea of what the monk or nun ‘should be’. Often it is a romantic idea based on a mixture of comparatively little fact laced with a lot of fiction. It is usually unhistorical and represents a conflation of various traditions in the Church. Sometimes the effects are funny, as when I was taken to task by one earnest shopper in Morrison’s who demanded to know why I didn’t have a Rosary hanging from my belt. A little explanation followed, but I could see he was not convinced: must be one of these ‘modern nuns’ who are undermining the faith . . . . Sometimes the effects are more serious, as when we are told we should do or be this or that, and if the speaker happens to be a bishop or pope, well!!! At such times, the example of our Benedictine saints can be very helpful. Or, if not helpful, a source of comfort: we have been here before, which, given the long history of Benedictinism, is usually true.
Today, as we give thanks for the witness of all who have gone before and been made holy by their fidelity to the Gospel and the Rule, let us also ask their prayers: for Benedictine communities the world over, especially those facing a difficult or uncertain future; for our oblates, associates and friends; for those discerning a monastic vocation; for our online community and all who turn to us in moments of need or distress. This morning I posted two prayer intentions on Twitter, one for Benedictines and another for peace between Israel and Gaza. I notice that the intention for peace is attracting more attention than the one for Benedictine communities, but have you ever thought what would be the consequence of the Benedictines disappearing? No more Benedictine saints in the making — the drying up of a mighty stream of holiness in the Church . Please pray for us all. We do need your prayers!