Stories of Saints and Martyrs - Jetta S. Wolff

St. Benedict

March 21; A.D. 543

St. Benedict was born in Noricum, in the country of Nursia in Italy. He was of good family, and at the age of seven the boy was sent to Rome, under the care of an old and faithful nurse, to be educated.

The city at this time was very gay and very sinful; it was given up wholly to selfish pleasures, and somehow or other the young Benedict came to see a great deal of the evil that was going on. He was filled with horror, and at last, when he was about fourteen, feeling he must see no more of such wickedness, he left Rome and fled to a lonely place among the Sabine Hills.

Here he met a monk, by name Romanus. To him the lad poured out his heart. The monk spoke kind words of counsel, gave him a hair-shirt and a goat-skin cloak, and advised him to remain for a time among the hills away from men. So Benedict buried himself in a deep hollow between high rocks, from whence he could see nothing but the blue sky above. His food was a small portion from Romanus' own fare, thrown down to him at the end of a rope with a bell tied to it, which Benedict rang each time he wanted the rope pulled up. In this strange way the young man passed three years. Thorns and thick bushes grew around his hiding place. Now and then he would come up from his hollow, and walk about among the bushes, but all this time he saw no one save the monk Romanus or the poor peasants of the country near. The peasants thought at first that the being whose home was the hidden rock, his food the rudest herbs, his way of life so singular, must be some strange wild animal, half man, half beast. But soon they saw that he was indeed a man like themselves, and that he had moreover a good kind human heart. They learned to love him first for the kind words he spoke whenever they met, and by-and-by for his good deeds and his teaching. For as St. Benedict felt himself growing stronger and more fit to contend with the evil of the world, he came out more often and began to teach others and to make himself known as a servant of GOD .

By-and-by some monks asked him to go and be at the head of their convent. But they soon found him too strict. St. Benedict in his mountain solitude had made himself able to bear what they were either unwilling or unable to endure. There must have been some very bad men among them, for one day they gave him a cup of poison. Perhaps the saint knew of their bad designs. At any rate he did not drink of the cup, but making the sign of the cross, shivered it into a thousand pieces. Then he left this monastery.

But men who, like St. Benedict, had felt the evil of the world too overpowering, or its temptations too strong for them, and who, longing to live a holy life, sought solitude, gathered round him, and he founded a number of monasteries, placing in each twelve monks. So he tried to help others and to serve GOD . But troubles and temptations still followed him, and at last he said he must travel away by himself, and live quite alone for a time. He went along by the Apennine Mountains till he came to the hilly spot called Monte Cassino. Here he settled down, teaching, preaching, training himself, and working among the people for fourteen years; and here, upon the site of an ancient pagan temple, he built his famous monastery. The sick, the poor, the sinful, all came to Father Benedict He was never harsh or severe in his dealings with the weak and fallen. By all he had gone through himself, he had learned how to treat with gentleness and wisdom the failings of his fellow-men. The Order he formed is kept up still, and is still full of life. The original monastery of Monte Cassino has long since passed away, the building now standing on the same spot being of much later date; but the Order of St. Benedict has lasted through more than 1,300 years. The rules he drew up and followed, the dress he arranged, are still kept to.

Once a fierce Gothic chief, named Zalla, who had plundered a great many poor Italian peasants near Monte Cassino, caught one of them and put him to cruel torture, trying to force him to give up the little he had to live on.

The peasant would not yield to the brigand chief, and at last he cried out that he had nothing left of his own, that he had given all to the Abbot Benedict.

Zalla at once bound the poor man's arms behind him, and rode up the steep hill of Monte Cassino, driving the peasant on before him, as if he were an ox or a mule. They found the Abbot reading before the gate of his monastery.

"There is the Father Benedict of whom I told thee," cried the peasant.

"Rise, rise!" cried the fierce chief from his horse. "Rise, I say!" he cried to the Abbot.

St. Benedict looked up calmly. He did not move from his seat, nor did he seem in the least disturbed. But he said quietly, "Give back what thou hast taken from this poor man." As he spoke, he looked at the poor bound peasant till it seemed as if his cords loosened of themselves; and the angry Goth, cowed by the quiet sternness of the saint, fell from his horse, trembling and overcome, at the Abbot's feet.

Benedict took him into the convent, set the best of their simple food before him, and then, in burning words of indignation, spoke to him of his cruelty and injustice. The peasant left the place a free man.

St. Benedict had a sister to whom he was greatly attached. She, too, had given herself up to serve GOD as a religious," and lived at a convent that was not very far from Monte Cassino. But he did not think it right for him to visit his dear sister often, so they used to arrange a meeting once every year; and as the day came round, Scholastica, as she was called, would go out of her own gate to meet her brother on the mountain-side. The last time they were thus together, Scholastica was feeling far from well. Her health was failing; she knew she was going to fall ill. But she would not say much about herself to her brother, only when evening came and it was time for St. Benedict to depart, she said: "My brother, leave me not to-night."

"What is this thou sayest, my sister?" he exclaimed. "At no cost can I stay a night out of my monastery."

Scholastica bent her head, clasped her hands upon the table, and wept silently.

Suddenly there fell upon their ears the sound of rain and storm. The weather till then had been calm and bright. In a moment all had changed. The sister looked up with a gleam of joy. Benedict could not leave his shelter that night. "GOD is hearing me!" she cried. "Brother, I prayed to thee, thou wouldst not listen. Then I prayed to GOD, He is hearing me."

They parted in the morning to meet no more on earth.

St. Benedict had the body of his sister taken to Monte Cassino, and laid in the tomb he had ready for himself. He lived but forty days longer. A fever attacked him. He felt that he was about to die. After six days of suffering he begged to be carried to the Chapel. Then he bade his monks open the tomb where his sister had been laid six weeks before. He went up to it, stretched out his arms to heaven, and so stood in prayer. And then, standing thus, he died—a soldier's death—struggling to the last moment against the weakness of mortal nature. He had fought "manfully all his days against the world, the flesh, and the devil; "he had continued "CHRIST'S faithful soldier and servant until his life's end." Then— POEM "The golden evening brightened in the west, To him, the faithful warrior, came the rest, Sweet is the calm of Paradise the bless'd, Alleluia!"