A Benedictine Response to the Culture of Death
On July 11, we celebrated the Memorial of Saint Benedict of Nursia -- the founder and patron of Western Monasticism. St. Benedict (ca. 480 to 547 AD) was born in the small village in the high mountains northeast of Rome. His parents sent him to study in Rome, but he fled the city to live in the remote area of Subiaco because he was disgusted by the decadence of his fellow students.
Soon after, St. Benedict was discovered by a group of monks who asked him to be their leader. He reluctantly accepted, but his leadership was too rigorous for the lukewarm monks. They even tried to kill him by offering him a pitcher of poisoned wine; but as the story goes, when he prayed over it, the pitcher miraculously shattered in his hands. St. Benedict left the "unruly" monks and went on to establish twelve other monasteries in the area before moving to Monte Cassino on a hilltop between Rome and Naples in 529 A.D. There he destroyed a pagan temple dedicated to Apollo and built the monastery where he wrote his Rule and lived until his death. The Rule of St. Benedict is still used in many monasteries and convents today.
Pope Gregory the Great in his Dialogues presented St. Benedict as a "luminous star" who led humanity out of the "black night of history." St. Benedict lived in a time when the Roman Empire had collapsed. Civilization was in ruins. It is said that the Benedictine monks brought civilization to Europe through "the cross, the book and the plow." Benedictine monks built monasteries where learning and ancient manuscripts were preserved for the ages. What we think of as the Christian culture of Europe is very much indebted to these monks whose monasteries were centers of piety and learning in medieval times.
In our times we might be able to identify with a civilization in ruins, or at least a civilization that appears to be hurtling toward ruin. Many, including and perhaps especially such Catholics as Melinda Gates, have abandoned much of the Christian faith and culture that St. Benedict was so essential to spreading, and human life is under attack in unprecedented ways. In these times, we need to call on St. Benedict's intercession and ask for his intercession to point us out of the darkness of the culture of death and help us reform society.
Pope John Paul II said that St. Benedict's vision for the reform of society included three main ideas: the value of the individual as a person; the dignity of work, understood as service of God and brothers; and the necessity of contemplation, that is of prayer -- having understood that God is the Absolute, and we live in the Absolute, the soul of everything must be prayer: "Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus." [That in all things God may be glorified.]
The challenges are great. Europe is dying in large part because it has abandoned the Christian culture on which it was founded and has embraced a neo-pagan ideology. Fewer and fewer Europeans are having children. Even worse, Europeans are trying to spread their anti-natalist ideology around the world.
Case in point: A summit held in London on Wednesday by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was held to lauch a massive project to spread contraception in the developing world. It is clear that while Melinda Gates has called her campaign "No Controversy," many other countries, especially Catholic and Islamic countries, think her campaign is very controversial.
Many Muslims, like many Christians in the developing world, justly see population control as a new form of imperialism. Indeed, early in the population control movement, before the destructive ideology was wrapped in the language of "reproductive health" and "sustainability," population control advocates were much more open about their aims. In 1929, British atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in his book Marriage and Morals: "It cannot be expected that the most powerful military nations will sit still while other nations reverse the balance of power by the mere process of breeding."
There are too many examples of such blatant eugenic imperialism to list here, although now the same practice is ironically cloaked in the more deceptive language of "justice" and "women's health."
In the face of such challenges, we need to embrace the Benedictine motto Ora et Labora [Pray and Work] as we seek to restore a Christian civilization of life and love.
St. Benedict wrote in his Rule "Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to bring it to perfection." He said that nothing should be preferred to Opus Dei [The Work of God], which is what he called the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office.
Both prayer and work are essential in rebuilding Christian culture and overcoming the culture of death.
The Founder of Human Life International was Father Paul Marx, O.S.B. -- a Benedictine monk who also was called to evangelize. As both a scientist and a man of faith he pointed out, even at a time when many clergy were in open rebellion against Humanae Vitae, that a contraceptive mentality inevitably leads to abortion and other assaults on life.
Fr. Marx, in his 1993 book The Warehouse Priest, laid out the case for supporting the Holy Father's prophetic encyclical, saying that the Church must:
consistently proclaim that abortion is the fruit of contraception, that foresight contraception often leads to hindsight abortion, and that massive contraception has caused increasing abortion worldwide. Having visited and studied eighty-five countries, I challenge any bishop, priest, professor, or scientist to show me the contrary. Abortion is the end point of the abuse of sex, which begins with the unleashing of the sexual urge by contraception. (Page 262)
In 2004, Father Marx said that euthanasia is now following abortion just as surely as the latter followed contraception: "If you can be killed before birth, why not after?" Noting that pro-lifers have been dismissed as foolish for making those claims, he continued: "It becomes more evident every day that you're right... Europe is dying out. The United States is growing only because of immigration."
Ora et Labora. We have to continue to pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on us. Melinda Gates' new eugenics campaign is a challenge to all of us, we must spend time in prayer and allow Him to form our hearts and minds, so that we may think and respond in accordance with His will.
St. Benedict, pray for the conversion of those who have rejected their faith and are working to promote a culture of death. You destroyed the Temple of Apollo and built the magnificent monastery of Monte Cassino. Help us to follow your example of work and prayer. Pray that the defenders of life and family will be successful in our mission to defeat the culture of death and build a culture of life!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Peter West
VP for Missions, Human Life International