As we approach the feast of All Saint’s Day, celebrated in many churches as a day on which to remember those holy men and women who have imitated Christ in outstanding ways throughout the ages, it may be a good time to think of who inspires us to grow in love and holiness, whichever Christian tradition we come from.
As a community, one of the first people is likely to be Benedict, but who else might we choose?
For me, one figure that comes to mind is my namesake Jerome, a Biblical scholar who lived in the third and fourth centuries and may – or may not – have owned a lion. Like Benedict, Jerome is associated with the monastic tradition of the church, and has influenced much of Christian theology. But why does this saint inspire me, and what insights can he bring to a community of St Benedict fans?
The first thing to note is that both saints talked of the importance of reading the Bible. Not only is Benedict’s rule filled with references to the Holy Scriptures, but he is also credited as one of the founding fathers of Lectio Divina, a prayerful practice of Scripture-reading that has stood the test of time and is celebrated by our community today. In Section 48 of the Rule, St Benedict gives specific times for when monks are to practice Lectio Divina, ensuring that it was to be a staple of their way of life.
Jerome is also known for his connection to Scripture, and emphasised this in his writings. It was in his commentary on the book of Isaiah, a book that prophesies the coming of Jesus, that we find one of his most famous quotes: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”. Clearly Jerome understood just as well as Benedict did that the best way to come to know God was through his Word.
Ora et Labora
Not only this, but both saints understood the importance of combining work with prayer. The motto “ora et labora” has been a key part of Benedictine spirituality from its beginning. Benedict said that “he who labours as he prays lifts his soul to God” and also called idleness “the enemy of the soul”. Jerome was similar in his approach – in a letter to a young monk named Rusticus, Jerome implores his friend to “always have some work on hand, so that the devil may find you busy”.
This said, it’s important to remember, on the feast of All Saints as on any feast, what the life of any Christian ought to focus on. Whether it was devotion to the Bible or to working as a form of prayer, both Jerome and Benedict emphasised the primacy of devoting one’s life to Jesus Christ. “Whenever you begin any good work” says Benedict, “you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection”. The same sentiment can be seen in the quote from Jerome given above – we only read Scripture so that we can come closer to Our Lord.
For both saints, work, prayer and reading the Bible were all means to an end: that one might, to give one final quote from Benedict, “prefer absolutely nothing to the love of Christ”.