His Saint, whom God raised up as the father of the great Benedictine family, was born of noble Roman parents, in the province of Nursia, about the year 500. When old enough to begin his education, he was sent into the city of Rome, but as he began to advance, he became so fearful lest the love of knowledge should wean him from the love of God, that he resolved to leave his studies, and go to dwell in some solitary place, where he might give all his time to prayer and meditation. His old nurse insisted upon following him, so they commenced their journey, during which it pleased Almighty God to work a miracle at the prayer of this boy. To the very great distress of the nurse, a sieve which she had borrowed to winnow a little wheat, got broken. Benedict was so sorry to see her in such grief, that he took the sieve in his hands, and kneeling down, put the two broken pieces together, whilst he prayed earnestly for a few minutes, and then gave it back to her quite whole, and without a sign of the accident which had happened to it.
But it seemed as if even the care and affection of one creature was a hindrance to the work which God was doing in the soul of Benedict, for he escaped from the presence of the nurse, and reached a place about forty miles from Rome, where the mountain streamlets had collected into a lake, from which a little river flowed. As he hastened towards this spot, a monk named Romanus met him, and inquired where he was going, and when Benedict told him he was seeking a desert place, where he would be alone with God, Romanus gave him a habit and other things of which he stood in need. Afterwards he left the monastery where he dwelt, at a certain hour each day, to visit Benedict in his solitude, and give him part of his own food, but as there was no regular path from the mountain to the cave, he fastened a long string from the top of the rock, to which he attached a little bell which gave Benedict notice to come and receive the bread which was lowered to him.
For several years the pious hermit lived thus unknown, but at length he was discovered by some shepherds, who spread such a story of his sanctity, that many persons began to find their way to him, some from curiosity, others from a desire to get good from his holy words.
There was a monastery not far off, whose abbot died, upon which the community visited Benedict’s cave, and begged him to come and rule them, to which he consented. But the monks there had grown careless in their religious practices, and they grew weary of Benedict’s strictness, and the habit of yielding to temptation in slight things was the cause of their falling into greater sins, until at last they were so wicked as to desire to take the life of their holy superior. For this purpose they mixed poison with his wine, and when the cup containing it was given him to bless according to their usual custom, Benedict extended his hand, making the sign of the cross, whereupon the glass broke into countless pieces, exactly as if it had been struck by a stone. The Saint knew then the wrong they had committed, but he reproved them mildly, asking them why – even if they disliked his austere way of life – they should sin against Almighty God? Then bidding them seek another abbot, he left the monastery, returning to his former happy solitude.
The miracles which, by the power of Heaven, he worked there, added to his many virtues, attracted people to visit him, and in time he drew together so many men, who were all filled with the desire to devote their lives to the service of God, that he built twelve monasteries in that part, where they received the young sons of the best families of Rome, who were brought by their parents for instruction.
A boy named Placidus went out one day, to draw water from the lake, and in stooping, he fell forward into the water, and was carried some distance by the stream. When it happened Benedict was at prayer in his cell, but being warned by God of the accident, he summoned another of the household, to whom he said, “Brother, that boy who went to draw water has been carried away by the stream; run quickly to his help.”
Maurus just paused to kneel for his superior’s blessing, and then hurried off to the water, but in his excitement when he saw Placidus apparently sinking, he ran straight over the lake, seized him by the hair, and brought him safely back before he remembered what an extraordinary thing had occurred to him.
Then, when he saw how it had been, and that he had actually been running upon water, he rushed to the holy Benedict, to relate what he had done, which the Saint declared to be the reward of the monk’s obedience, not because of his own prayers.
In all times the saints and servants of God have been hated and persecuted by wicked men, and because Saint Benedict persuaded so many persons to begin to live a life of strictness and self-sacrifice, some spoke evil of him, and one man became so full of malice, that he sent him a loaf of poisoned bread. The saintly monk received it with thanks, although he knew its contents would cause his death if he eat of it, and this is ‘what he decided to do. A crow out of the forest near by, had grown accustomed to come at a certain hour and feed out of Benedict’s hand, so when it appeared as usual, he threw the loaf down before it, saying, “In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, I bid thee take away this bread, and carry it where it is not possible for any one to find it.” The crow fluttered round and round the loaf trying to obey, at which the Saint repeated his command, adding, “Do not fear – lift it up,” and at length the bird managed to fix his beak in the bread, and carried it away, returning after about three hours’ absence, for its accustomed meal.
But as the man who had planned this way of causing the monk’s death, still persisted in hating him, Benedict left that place, and removed to Monte Cassino. While he dwelt there, he was terribly tempted by the devil, who showed himself in many horrible shapes, but Benedict always took refuge in prayer, and thus overcame his enemy, receiving daily fresh gifts and graces from God, as a reward for his faithfulness.
A new monastery was built in this place, to which many came for admission, so that the order increased constantly, watched over by the careful eye of their holy superior. Once a famine overspread that part of the country, and food was so scarce, that upon that day, only five loaves remained in the house, neither did the brothers know of any means of getting any more. Benedict, noticing their anxious faces, said, ” Why are you cast down? There is indeed little for to-day, but to-morrow there shall be abundance.” Next day, two hundred bushels of flour were found in sacks at the monastery gates, which God had sent His servants, although they never knew the way in which it had been brought to them.
About five miles from the monastery, in the valley at the foot of the mountains, Scholastica, the sister of the holy Benedict, dwelt with her community of nuns, of whom she was abbess. She delighted in receiving the advice and help of her brother, so that the love of God should increase in her soul, and once a year she came to a certain spot, where Benedict, with two of his monks, met her, and spoke of spiritual things.
The last time they met thus, a whole day had passed in this holy conversation, and as it began to grow late, the monk prepared to return to Monte Cassino, but Scholastica entreated him to remain, and talk with her of God until the morning.
“What is it thou sayest, my sister? I can in nowise remain out of my cell.”
It was a calm, still evening, not a cloud was in the sky, to foreshadow a coming storm, but the holy abbess bowed her head upon her folded hands, and begged God to grant her desire, and as she looked up, it began to thunder and lighten heavily, and the rain fell in such torrents, that Benedict and his monks could not cross the threshold of the place where they, were. Then he exclaimed, “Oh, my sister! what hast thou done?” upon which Scholastica replied, “I asked of thee a favour, which thou didst refuse, but God has granted it to me.” Being forced to remain, the monks passed the entire night in spiritual conversation, and when morning broke the brother returned to his monastery, and the sister to her convent, but they had met for the last time on earth.
Three days afterwards, Benedict was praying in his cell, when he saw the soul of his sister ascending under the form of a pure white dove to heaven, at which he thanked and praised God, and telling the news of her death to his brethren, they fetched the body from the convent gates, and buried it in the grave which had been already prepared for Benedict.
Fourteen years that life of prayer and penance and austere rule went on at Monte Cassino; then the Saint announced that his death was at hand; he became ill, and after six days requested his brethren to cany him in their arms to the church of the monastery.
There, supported upon each side, he received the most Holy Eucharist, and leaning back, with his feeble hands raised to heaven, passed peacefully away, a prayer upon his lips in death, as there had ever been during his holy life.
– from , by Mary F Seymour