00 6/1/2009 4:56 AM



Here's a belated translation of a beautiful OR article on 5/24/09:


In the patron Saint of Europe,
the roots of Benedict XVI's Pontificate:
The inseparable link
between obedience and freedom

by Mariano Dell'Omo, OSB
Vice-Archivist of the Abbey of Montecassino
Translated from the
5/24/09 issue of




To whoever did not know the long spiritual and human itinerary of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the choice of the name Benedict when he was elected Pope that Roman afternoon of April 19, 2005 - before he later explained its genesis with his usual clarity - would have seemed singular if not extraordinary.

One simply has to look through the volume of his memoir La mia vita: Ricordi 1927-1977 [My Life: Memoirs 1927-1077, published in English as Milestones], to see early on, even in the boy Joseph, that interior landscape which would lead him much later, once elected Pope, to choose the name of Benedict, the sainted founder of Montecassino and father of Western monasticism.

The space of liturgy indeed fascinated the boy Ratzinger: "This mysterious fabric of texts and actions had grown from the faith of the Church over centuries. It bore the whole weight of history within itself, and yet, at the same time, it was much more than the product of human history", he writes in that memoir.

This world became familiar to him, thanks to the mediation of a Benedictine monk, Anselm Schott, of Beuron Abbey, who had published a missal in German with commentary intended to make the Mass understandable to an audience as simple and intuitive as children.

The cardinal recalled how he had received as a gift "a Schott for children in which the liturgy's basic texts were printed. Then I got a Schott for Sundays, which contained the complete liturgy for Sundays and feast days. Finally, I received the complete missal for every day of the year. Every new step into the liturgy was a great event for me. Each new book I was given was something precious to me, and I could not dream of anything more beautiful".

This is the Opus Dei, the work of God, in praise of him, which plays a privileged and primary role in the life of a Benedictine monk, always mindful of that which St. Benedict states in his Rule (43,3):
Nihil Operi Dei praeponatur [Place nothing ahead of the Work of God - a restatement of the more famous, Place nothing ahead of Christ's love].

Highly significant is the fact that Benedict adapts the same syntagma 'nihil praeponere' only in one other context, when he states apodictically the primacy of Christ in the life of the monk (4.21).

Liturgical prayer as Opus Dei, Work of God, is the space in which Christ is present in a triple way, according to the well-known thought of St. Augustine which so pervades that of St. Benedict: "The only savior of the mystical body, our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of god, is he who prays for us, who prays in us, and whom we pray to. He prays for us as our priest; he prays in us as our head; and we pray to him as our God"(Expositio in psalmos, 85, 1).

One then understands why Cardinal Ratzinger wrote what he did, on the crest of his childhood memories, about that Benedictine echo with which he would more and more harmonize his experience as a priest, as a bishop, and finally as Pope: "The inexhaustible reality of the Catholic liturgy has accompanied me through all phases of life, and so I shall have to speak of it time and again".

Moreover, the infancy and adolescence of the future Pontiff took place in an environment particularly characterized by a Benedictine imprint - and therefore, by its liturgical culture - as he recalls Traunstein, the little town where he lived at the Austrian border, just 30 kilometers from Salzburg, the Mozartean city par excellence, which was so influenced by the historic Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter founded in the seventh century by St. Rupert, Apostle to the Bavarians.

Austria and Bavaria are profoundly marked by the presence of so many Benedictine monasteries, that even today, the Austrian and Bavarian monastic congregations in the Confederation of the Order of St. Benedict, comprise respectively 12 and 11 monasteries, some of which - like Weltenburg in the diocese of Regensburg, and Scheyern in the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising - became very well known to the priest and theology professor, later Cardinal, Ratzinger.

But the context in which the Cardinal, by then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for many years, more widely laid out as in a vast fresco all his ideas about the Benedictine world, of its contribution to the human and spiritual civilization of Europe in particular, was certainly the interview-book that resulted from a sojourn in Montecassino itself on February 7-11, 2000, which came out the following year with an almost programmatic title, God and the world: Being Christian in the new millennium.

That time, as brief as it was intense, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his Preface to the book, was spent in an atmosphere of utter peace: "The quiet of the monastery, the warmth shown by the monks and the abbot, the atmosphere so favorable to prayer, and the reverent solemnity of liturgy was of great help to us".

On that occasion, he freely answered questions from the journalist and author Peter Seewald, allowing his monastic vision to flower in those pages, the hopes which he harbored on the relevance today of
St. Benedict's ideal.

What struck the future Pope in the first place was the casual temporal coincidence in the year 529 - for him, "extremely significant' - "between the closing of the Academy in Athens, symbol of education in classical antiquity, and the inauguration of the monastery at Montecassino, which was, so to speak, the academy of Christianity.

The closing of the Platonic academy was the symbol of the decline of a world. The Roman Empire was in decomposition, it was already dismembered in the West, where it no longer existed as such. With it, an entire culture risked being drowned in oblivion. But Benedict guarded it zealously and at the same time caused it be reborn, thus fulfilling a mission that fully satisfied the Benedictine motto,
Succisa virescit - What is cut back grows anew. A new beginning corresponded in degree to the decomposition.

When Cardinal Ratzinger a few years later took on, as the successor to John Paul II, the name of Benedict, we can imagine that he too must have thought of 'a new beginning'.

Like St. Benedict, he himself must have intuited the possibility that Providence offered him to give his Pontificate a prophetic beginning that boded well, from which - as it is now happening - could emerge a new culture and a new work of Christian regeneration for the entire world.

It wasn't accidental that he had been long aware in his life of the relevance of St. Benedict's Rule as an existential viaticum offered not only to monks but to all men willing to accept it, to 'live beside oneself', to be quiet, to listen, and thus to find peace.

In those days of serene contemplation and profitable work at Montecassino, constructing that interview book, he acknowledged that "the Benedictine Rule is the blinding example of the fact that whatever truly reflects nature never ages", and like a true teacher, Cardinal Ratzinger proved to be a most refined exegete of a text, the Rule of Benedict, that has had so many illustrious and sainted commentators.

He joined their ranks, illuminating the first words of the prologue to the Rule: Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri (Listen, children, to the teachings of the master), exhorting with magisterial accents and paternal tone "to recover the idea that listening is part of life - since divine service is in great measure allowing God to enter our life asnd listen to him. Like discipline, measure and order, so also obedience and freedom are inseparable, and even the capacity for reci;rocal tolerance in the name of faith is not only the fundamental Rule of a monastic community but, together with all the other elements we havee mentioned, is also an essential ingredient of any form of human coexistence. it is a rule rooted in human nature and capable of synthesizing the human essense because it has looked and listened beyond the human and perceived the divine. Man is humanized precisely where he is touched by God".

How much more clear it all is today, how natural, consistent and expressive of his long-lasting faithfulness to the Benedictine charism, was his choice of the name Benedict!

On that evening of April four years ago, we were happily surprised by his choice, a name that later has become more and more - and will be more and more - the emblem of a Pope who loves to contemplate the beauty of God, who wants to have us all perceive it, and who sees in in the persuasive, firm and at the same time gentle message of the patriarch Benedict, a means to reorient humanity on the path of listening with the heart so that "you, man of this splendid and tornemted time", he seems to tell us paternally, "ad eum per oboedientiae laborem redeas, a quo per inoboedientiae desidiam recesseras - by the effort of obedience may return to Him from whom you have becoem distant by the inertia of disobedience" (Rule, Prolog, 2).

It is emblematic that among the last official words of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals - even as the phyeical condition of John Paul II was worsening by the hour - were dedicated to Benedict of Norcia, delivered on April 1, 2005, in Subiaco where he was given the "Ben4dict Prize' by the Fondazione 'Vita e Famiglia'.

He addressed 'Europe in the crisis of cultures', that continent to which the apostle of Gemany, the Benedictine monk St. Boniface, had contributed to constructing in a Christian way in the remote 8th century.

Rereading that text, we cannot fail to see in it the announcement of a turning point, a presage of that threshold which the Lord of history was mysteriously opening in mankinhd's horizon: "We need men like Benedict of Norcia who, at a time of dissipation and decadence, immersed himself in the most extreme solitude, succeeding after all the prufifications he underwent, to re-emerge in the light, to come out and found Montecassino, the city on the hill which, with so much in ruin, he put together the forces out of of which he formed a new world. And thus Benedict, like Abraham, became the father of many peoples".

In the imminence of his coming to Cassino and Montecassino, these words of hope blaze vivdly from the future Pope, the first to be elected in the third millennium, in the dawn of a new world, of that renewed civilization that he hopes will finally be the civilization of love.