A Christian renewal of families and parishes in the light of Saint Benedict

by Fr Massimo Lapponi OSB.

The immortal teaching of Saint Benedict is founded in his own experience. When he was a young boy he went from his village to Rome for his high level studies, like many young boys go to university today. But what did he find? He saw that the young students spent their free time in debauchery. What kind of school is this – he thought – that does not teach young people how to live well but teaches them only about academic matters? This useless teaching takes people to hell! So he fled from Rome and retired in the mountains to pray God to enlighten him. After that God led him to consecrate himself to monastic life and after many years of experience he wrote his Rule.

At the beginning of the Rule he writes that he wants to create a “school”, but his school will be different from the school of the world that he had abandoned: it will not be a school of learning, but “the school of divine service” – or, we can say, the school of good life.

A good life cannot be a single life, because nobody lives alone and, if one wants to live a good life but his/her family or group does not behave well, he/she will be hindered in his/her efforts of living a good life. That’s why the apostles did not instruct single persons, but communities and families. Saint Benedict follows the example of the apostles and in his Rule he instructs people to live a holy life together, following good and holy rules in everyday life. And his teachings are not general and abstract, but very practical, in order to give a good and holy form to everyday common life. Saint Benedict teaches to get up early in the morning, without laziness, to be obedient and humble, to have common moments of prayer at fixed times and to attend to them punctually, to work with care above all in the most humble works, to speak wisely and gently, to have a mutual agreement of charity for the good order of common life under the charitable authority of the abbot.

This school of divine service was organized for consecrated people. But we must consider that it was thought as a protest against the fallacious school of the world. Were the criticisms of Saint Benedict to the school of the world well founded? Surely they were, and not only for the school of his time, but perhaps more for the school of our time! Is it not true that our high schools are not only schools of learning, but in fact also the greatest centers of debauchery for our youth?

So the protest of Saint Benedict against the school of the world has a universal value and his alternative school, in spite of his own intention, has a universal validity. Ought not families and parishes to try to follow his lessons in teaching young people a good family and communal life, in order to teach them also a good single life? Family life and parish life and teaching ought to become real “schools of divine service”, following Saint Benedict’s lesson. Families must not be centers of tepid or corrupted life and parishes and catechism must not be centers of mere learning, like the schools of the world.

One can object that the Rule of Saint Benedict is founded on the renunciation of the goods on which family life in founded: sex, property and personal freedom, through the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. But we must observe that those vows are simply the most perfect expression of the main virtues of Christian life, the same virtues that are the real foundation of the family. In fact only on chastity, sobriety and self-renunciation can be founded a happy marriage and family life. Indeed young people that want to prepare for marriage must be like Benedictine monks in observing the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

So we see that Benedictine monasteries are destined to become models for family life and inspiration for parish catechism.

Now we are trying to organize three things:

1. An instruction for young people that does not follow the traditional catechism, founded above all on mere learning. In a separate paper we shall explain the method of this instruction.

2. Experiences of some days for young boys in male Benedictine monasteries and for young girls in female Benedictine monasteries. This is not to encourage vocations, but rather to have young people experience what a Christian family everyday life should be like. In this way our teaching will not be only theoretical.

3. If those young people become convinced of the value of that teaching and are happy to follow such an order of life, we may consider forming a new group of young people called “Benedictine youth”.

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