November 4, 2016


Monks vow to rebuild following devastating earthquakes in Italy

The men and women who follow St. Benedict of Nursia are rebuilders. Their ancestors in the Benedictine way of life rebuilt western civilization after it fell into ruins following the collapse of the Roman Empire. For some 1,500 years, Benedictine monks and nuns have been building and rebuilding monasteries, churches, schools, and institutions dedicated to caring for the poor, the sick and the homeless in all regions of the world.

The Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of St. Benedict, began a serious rebuilding effort following the earthquake in August 2016 that did serious damage to the towns surrounding Norcia, as well as to the monastery, the Basilica of St. Benedict built over the birthplace of him and his sister St. Scholastica and many neighboring buildings.

Another earthquake last week—the worst Italy has experienced in many years—demolished the basilica and most of the town. The monks of Norcia are safe, living in tents on mountain property they own just outside the city limits. But the way of life they were rebuilding in their founder’s hometown has suffered a serious setback.

This community of monks is relatively young. Founded by Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, the monks of Norcia come from diverse cultures and nationalities. Their desire is to plant roots in a particular place and there to seek God through a way of life wholly dedicated to prayer, work and holy reading (lectio divina). The monks of Norcia have gained recognition in recent years through their popular chant recording and through their sale of beer they brew (Birra Nursia).

Like their Benedictine sisters and brothers here in Indiana and throughout the world, the monks of Norcia take a vow of stability, a commitment to their monastic home including its physical location. That makes the devastation caused by earthquakes, fires, tornados and all other natural disasters a special challenge to their way of life. It also causes Benedictines to be more than usually determined to “plant deep roots” (as the monks in Norcia are trying to do) and to rebuild what is torn down—whether by human neglect, political upheaval, natural disasters or human sinfulness.

The Rule of St. Benedict is a guidebook for rebuilding—spiritually and materially. Although addressed to monks, it has become a foundational work for all who seek to follow Christ and live as his disciples. The Rule’s seventh chapter, “On Humilty,” outlines the steps necessary to “attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life.” By following this roadmap faithfully, St. Benedict says, we will “quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear.” All worries, doubts and fears—including those emotions which overwhelm us in times of trial and great loss—can be overcome by accepting God’s will for us and allowing his grace to help us start afresh.

The monks of Norcia, like their Benedictine brothers and sisters everywhere, have much to teach us about personal spirituality, life in community, love for the poor, respect for the dignity of human life and care for our earthly home. They remind us that prayer, which brings us into intimate personal contact with God and with all God’s family, must come first. We need to set aside times and places to worship God, to meditate on his word, to sing his praises and to listen to his still, soft voice. We also need to work, to build and rebuild God’s kingdom on Earth, and to cultivate the fields and harvest God’s abundant gifts through our stewardship of the material and spiritual blessings entrusted to our care.

Benedictine women and men can be great teachers and examples. Their witness to the evangelical counsels (poverty, chastity and obedience) and to the additional vows of stability and continuing conversion of life are needed now more than ever in this time of worldwide economic uncertainty and political unrest.

The Monastery of St. Benedict in Norcia will be rebuilt. The buildings will once again provide a stable home for the monks’ prayer, work and holy reading. The brewery will once again support the monks—and the 15 percent tithe they set aside for works of charity, including the rebuilding efforts of their neighbors and friends in Norcia. And pilgrims will once again gather in the birthplace of

St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. That’s what monks do. They rebuild and renew things (material and spiritual) for the sake of the Gospel.

May we all share in the efforts of the monks of Norcia to rebuild Benedictine monasticism in the birthplace of their founder. May we follow their example and dedicate our lives to building and rebuilding God’s kingdom wherever we are, here and now.

—Daniel Conway

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