July 11 is The Feast of Saint Benedict
The feast of Saint Benedict will be celebrated by Catholics around the world on July 11.
St. Benedict is the patron saint of Europe as a whole, of students, sufferers of kidney disease and of poisoning. He lived from 480 AD up to 543AD. Though there is limited biography written about Benedict’s life, the saint is considered to be among the top contributors to the various Catholic traditions up to today. St. Benedict was canonized by Pope Honorius III in 1220.
Benedict came from an affluent family in Nurcia, Italy. He is also the twin brother of Scholastica who was also later on canonized as a saint. Together with a personal nurse or aid, Benedict was sent to Rome to study. Among the courses of interest back then was rhetoric or the art of persuasive speaking. But the young Benedict lost that interest to pursue his education when he saw how rhetoric was used in a negative way rather than to convey the truth. He also saw how students and life in the city in general focused on vices and pleasures instead of spirituality and the truth.
This made Benedict give up his wealth and inheritance and chose to live in a small village. But worldly pleasures still haunted him in the village so he decided to live a hermitic life at the Subiaco Mountains following directions of another hermit named Romanus. While living in a cave, the Devil tempted Benedict by posing as a lovely woman. But Benedict resisted by rolling his body into a thorn bush.
Upon learning his holiness, a group of monks asked for his guidance and leadership but they eventually tried to poison Benedict after experiencing his strict rules. It is said that the cup filled with poisoned drink shattered after Benedict prayed over it. Another set of monks followed Benedict. They were more obedient to Benedict, urging the saint to build monasteries for each of the twelve monks.
The Monte Cassino was considered the major monastery built by Benedict, where the tradition of monasticism has its roots. Benedict built the larger monastery to house monks, disciples, would-be priests and all other individuals pursuing a religious life. The saint preferred a whole community setup with a leader and set of rules instead of small and dispersed monasteries.
Another miracle attributed to St. Benedict is the story of how he made oil overflow in a jar after praying to God, after the monastery’s cellarer refused to give a little oil to a beggar because the jar is nearly empty.
Contributions of St. Benedict
St. Benedict initiated the ascetic and monastic system for the Catholic religion. That is, the need for church and spiritual leaders to renounce worldly pursuits, pleasures and materials things and devoting one’s self to purely religious and spiritual work. The saint founded the idea that would-be leaders of the church should live separately and as a community in monasteries following the directives of an abbot or head priest.
If you will ask any Catholic priest, he certainly knows the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Rule is a set of guidelines or wisdoms of Benedict that tackled how church leaders should run a monastery, the church in general and most importantly, it contained instructions on how to live a spiritual life.
The Middle Ages is also alternately called as the Benedictine centuries because the saint is the key influence to the advancement of European civilization at that time. St. Benedict was also the one who made instructions that church leaders should critically study, learn and imbibe the details and lessons of the Scriptures instead of simply memorizing and reciting them at masses.
The Liberating Power of the St. Benedict Medal
The Jubilee Medal of St. Benedict is recognized by the Catholic Church as a sacramental of great power, particularly for those seeking healing from illnesses and deliverance from demonic influences.
Like every sacramental, its power does not lie in its beauty, or even in the prayer engraved on it, but can only be ascribed to the merits of Christ Jesus, to the efficacious prayers of St. Benedict, to the blessing of the Church and to the faith and disposition of the person using the medal. They walk not in superstition but in faith, like the hemorrhagic woman who believed her healing could come from the mere touch of the tassel of Christ’s cloak, or like those who had been healed and exorcised through a cloth that had been in contact with St. Paul.
“When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled” (Acts 19:12).
The medal of St. Benedict is covered back and front with images, and also with a curious series of letters. On the front, the great Abbot and founder of Western Monasticism is depicted at the center. In his right hand he holds a cross, representing the saving power of Christ. In his left hand he shows the book of the Holy Rule, followed by his spiritual descendants even to modern times, and symbolizing here the Benedictine work of prayer and evangelization over the centuries.
The meaning of the series of letters displayed on both sides of the medal went unknown until, in 1647, a manuscript dating to 1415 was discovered in the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria. It explained that each letter represents one word of a Latin prayer of exorcism.
So, let us look at the medal:
At the center of the front of the medal is, of course, Benedict, in the robes of a monk. To his right is a broken cup, which recalls an incident in Benedict’s life: rebellious monks, angry with Benedict, had poisoned his wine. When, at the start of his meal, he made the sign of the cross the cup shattered, and the conspirators fled.
To Benedict’s left is a raven, which removed bread that had also been poisoned.
Above the cup and the raven are the words Crux Sancti Patris, Benedicti (The Cross of our Holy Father, Benedict). Around the edge, enclosing the image of Benedict are the words Eius in obitu nostro praesentia muniamur! (“May we be strengthened by his presence in the hour of our death!”)
St. Benedict is — like St. Joseph — a patron of a “happy death.”
Under his feet there are the letters ex SM Casino MDCCCLXX (From holy Mounte Cassino, 1880). This commemorates the striking of this medal on the 1400th anniversary of Benedict’s birth. St. Scholastica was his twin.
The back of the medal is dominated by central cross. At the top of the cross is the word “pax,” Latin for “peace.” This is the greeting and motto of the Benedictine Order.
All around the cross, from each side, are four large letters: C. S. P. B. (Crux Sancti Patris Benedicti, or “Cross of the Holy Father Benedict”).
In the vertical line of the cross are again initial letters of a Latin prayer, “Crux sacra sit mihi lux! Nunquam draco sit mihi dux!” As follows:
- C. S. S. M. L. (Crux Sacra Sit Mihi Lux): “The Holy Cross be my light”
In the horizontal line of the cross:
- N. D. S. M. D. (Non Draco Sit Mihi Dux) “May the dragon never be my guide!)
Starting from the top, in a clockwise direction, and around the edge appear the initials of the prayer of exorcism:
- V. R. S. (Vade Retro Satan): “Get away, Satan”
- N. S. M. V. (Not Suade Mihi Vana): “Never tempt me with your vanities!”
- S. M. Q. L. (Sunt Mala Quae Libas): “What you offer me is evil.”
- I. V. B. (Ipse Venena Bibas): “Drink the poison yourself!”
The medal itself does not have power, and to believe so would be an un-Christian act of superstition. Rather, the medal is a visible sign of the inner devotion and faith of the believer in Jesus Christ and in his servant, St. Benedict, who acts by faith.
As the medal is a prayer of exorcism against Satan, it is used to call down God’s blessing and protection upon us, through the intercession of the great saint. It is also a reminder of our baptismal rejection of all that is evil.
There is a plenary indulgence granted to anyone who, at the hour of death, “uses, kisses or hold the blessed medal between the hands with veneration.” The indulgence is also granted if the person entrusts his soul to God, makes a good confession and receive Holy Communion.
Through an order of the Sacred Congregation of Religious in 1965, Benedictine Oblates (lay Benedictines) are permitted to wear the medal of St. Benedict in place of the small black cloth scapular that had formerly been worn.