(With all of us around the world, my High School class celebrated an online Liturgy of the Word without communion for the Feast of St Benedict on Saturday night. It being Saturday night, the readings were for Sunday. Here is my homily for Sunday's readings with some reflections on St Benedict.)
As alumni and teachers we had been formed by the sons of St Benedict, those whom the Alma Mater hymn calls: bold, undaunted men of prayer, work and peace. So we celebrate the feast day of our Father, St Benedict. Who is St Benedict?
St Benedict lived in the 5th to 6th century as the Roman empire was collapsing. He studied in Rome in his twenties to be a Roman noble. He did not like the lifestyle of the Romans so he left the big city and settled in a cave which was near a monastery. He did not plan to be a hermit but he ended up being one. He stayed there for a few years and he met a monk of the monastery who became his friend and servant. When the abbot of the monastery died, the monks asked Benedict to be their abbot but when he tried to implement changes, the monks attempted to poison him twice. He left the monastery and founded 12 monasteries around Subiaco. He wrote his Rule which is the rule for monasteries under his order. His motto is Prayer and work. So how is St Benedict relevant to us?
First, he shows us the importance of praying the Word of God. In his Rules he outlined what later evolved into the Liturgy of the Hours. The Liturgy of the Hours involves praying Scripture, especially the Psalms. Benedict shows prayer has to be grounded in Scripture, because Scripture is the written Word of God that reveals God in a special way. Catholics believe the Word of God is not limited to Scripture. John 1:1 tells us: in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word of God became flesh in Jesus and physically dwelt among us.
In the First Reading Isaiah said God’s word goes out from his mouth and will not return to him empty and will do what God has willed. This prophecy was fulfilled when the Son of God took on flesh. So what did Jesus fulfill? He redeemed us and revealed his Father to us through what he did and taught.
The Gospel today speaks of the sower who went out to sow. The seed fell on various kinds of ground. We are familiar with what these seeds are. All the seeds were sown but only the last one survived. The first group heard the word of the kingdom and do not understand it and the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in the heart. The seeds were sown in their heart, but were snatched. Why? The word translated as understand in English means to put together in Greek. This can mean comprehend, but it can also mean to take and put them together. The Word was snatched because there was no attempt even to take the Word and hold on to it.
While those who fell on rocky ground received the word with joy, there was no root and it died when trouble and persecution comes. Those who fell on thorny ground hears the Word but worries and riches choke it. The last hear and understand the Word and they bear fruit and yield a lot. While the first ones did not understand the word, these ones understood the word where we said, understanding is not comprehending but taking and putting them in our hearts. Our Lady heard the word of the Angel and even if she did not comprehend, she treasured the word in her heart. She took the word and put them in her heart. She guarded it. We may not understand Scripture but this does not mean we cannot take it, reflect on it and ask God to reveal what he means. While everyone in this parable heard the word, their response to the Word determined whether they bore fruit or not.
Jesus became flesh to dwell with us. He is here, present in our midst, ready to give life, ready to help, ready to listen and reveal his Father and help us put together his word. But we need to respond to his invitation. St Paul tells us in Second Reading the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. When we suffer, nothing makes sense. It is during these times, we go to the Word of God, who is Jesus, not to search for answers, but to be with him. We cleave to the words of what the Psalm today tells us: you visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it … you provide the people with grain. It speaks of God’s abundant providence.
During this time of COVID19, many suffer. Many try to make sense of why this is happening. In the midst of suffering, what matters is not comprehending why. What matters is who is with us. In my ordination two years ago, I printed souvenir cards to honor St Bede, after all, that was where the Word of God was sown in my heart. I also found something he said: Unfurl the sails, and let God steer us where he will.
These are difficult times, uncertain times for many. The world we know will never be the same again. What are we to do? We take the Word of God and guard it in our hearts. St Benedict teaches us to pray, to listen to the God speaking to us, telling us to be still and know he is God. We may not know what the future holds, but as long as we come to the Lord and trust him, God will take us to safety. The ride may be rough, but it will be safe, because God is in the ship. Do not be afraid. Unfurl the sails, and let God take us where he will.