Bishop John Sherrington joined the entire school of St Benedict in Ealing, to conclude their day of celebration for their patron’s Feast Day on 21 March with Mass. St Benedict's school maintains the older, traditional day of the feast which is generally celebrated on 11 July.
In his homily Bishop John reflected on the many lessons he had learnt from St Benedict and the Benedictines’ way of life. One such lesson was the value of listening: ‘“Listen carefully, my child’… These well-known opening words of the Rule of St. Benedict inspire our reflection. Listening is the path by which we can grow in wisdom and truth and so live humbly before God and discover His love.”
“We live in a world which is often very noisy. I find myself bombarded by information all the time. Listening requires focus and application to the task or person in front of me.”
Mass was concelebrated by a number of the monastic brethren of the Abbey. Afterwards Bishop Sherrington spoke to several of the students and teachers at the school.
The full copy of Bishop John Sherrington’s homily is available below:
Feast of St. Benedict, St. Benedict’s School, Ealing
Three memories come to mind as we celebrate this Feast. Many years ago, at a conference for priests, I remember the retreat director telling us to learn from the example of the Benedictines. He warned us as priests neither to eat junk food nor fast food. Think of the Benedictines he said, they have been in existence for over 1500 years, and you will never have a poor meal in a Benedictine monastery. His point was that there was a wisdom which had been learnt over the decades about the need for good food if you are to pray, work and study well. Balance and moderation characterise the Rule of St. Benedict.
A second memory was a visit to the ruins of the great abbey of Cluny which in the Middle Ages declined from the height of its power. One theory was that the monastery declined because the monks became decadent, lived in luxury and lost their focus on the simplicity of life. Eventually following the destruction wrought by the French revolution, the stones of the abbey were quarried and carried away for other projects. Today a few miles from Cluny, the tents and very frugal dwellings of Taizé continue the rhythm of prayer and welcome the guest and stranger with hospitality.
A third memory is that of Abbot Cuthbert Madden of Ampleforth speaking about the amethyst stone in the pectoral cross. The abbot of a neighbouring monastery whose monks did not live well asked St. Benedict to become their abbot. Reluctantly he agreed but then they tried to poison him but fortunately failed. Amethyst is an antidote against poison and so protection against evil.
What lessons might we draw from these stories?
Firstly the story about eating well, speaks of learning wisdom. Wisdom is a gift which I hope you will develop during your education here at St. Benedict’s. As we heard in the first reading from the book of Proverbs: to “turn your ear to wisdom” and “apply the heart to truth”.
Listen carefully, my child… These well-known opening words of the Rule of St. Benedict inspire our reflection. Listening is the path by which we can grow in wisdom and truth and so live humbly before God and discover His love.
We live in a world which is often very noisy. I find myself bombarded by information all the time. Listening requires focus and application to the task or person in front of me.
When we study we listen to the teacher or to the resources which we study in order to understand and then be ready to engage with our own minds in argument and critique. Any important task requires this discipline and sacrifice whether this is scientific research, mathematical solutions, art or sport. One of the teenagers in my former parish who was swimming at county level wanted to reach the next level and swim at regional level. Every morning one of her parents would drive her to the pool so that from 5.30 am – 6.30 am she could swim and then return home and get ready for school. Such an example of commitment speaks of the need to discipline ourselves so that we may bring to fullness the gifts which God has given us.
Wisdom comes from listening to the word of God through his scriptures. There we learn about the meaning of human life through the revelation of Jesus Christ. He shows us the way to be human and is our way, truth and life. If we wish to listen to God, then we will need to find the time for prayer.
Wisdom comes from listening to other people and learning from their experience. Recently, following the death of Nelson Mandela, I watched the film Invictus. Made in 2009, with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, it tells the story of how Nelson Mandela learnt about rugby and inspired the Springboks captain, Francois Pienaar to lead his team to victory in the world cup. Mandela realised that most black South Africans supported any team rather than the Springboks as they symbolised white supremacy. His challenge was to unite a nation around rugby. To do so he had to learn the names of the players, know the rules of the game to talk about it, and then inspire the captain Francois Pienaar to unite all South Africa around rugby. His wisdom came from watching and listening to others.
The second memory is a reminder about humility and simplicity. The gospel speaks of the commandment of love. When we love, we must listen to the other person, not come with all the answers, but rather put the other first. Pope Francis has shown us this way by the embrace he offers to those who have a disfigurement or disability, by the way he reaches out to people who are poor and marginalised and tells us of the scandal of poverty we must address.
The third story reminds us that when we do good, live truthfully and follow Jesus Christ we will face opposition. The amethyst stone reminds us of the way in which we need God’s protection over our lives as a protection against evil. To live in this way, we need courage, a gift of the Holy Spirit, to face the opposition and like Jesus, to carry the cross. It is this gift that strengthens the baptised through the sacrament of confirmation. Be strong and of good heart!
May God bless you on this Feast as St Benedict’s inspires and teaches you a way of living which leads to wisdom and truth found in Jesus Christ and lived in the service of others and their needs.
Bishop John Sherrington
21st March 2014