“Agere sequitur esse” (action follows being)

Gregory the Great on St Benedict. “…. he wrote a rule for his monks, both excellent for discretion and also eloquent for the style. Of whose life and conversation, if any be curious to know further, he may in the institution of that rule understand all his manner of life and discipline: for the holy man could not otherwise teach, than himself lived.”

The solemnity and feast of St Benedict in July is a marker point in the year, an annual occasion for gathering of community, for clothings, oblations and renewals of oblation. Those in the community welcome, witness and support the new members and refresh their own commitment, their belonging to the community, and have time and space to remember and renew their oblation and offering to God. There is a sense of fraternity, of family and solidarity but also the knowledge that this is an individual commitment and offering, made in community with others.

St Gregory the Great described St Benedict as a shining light in the darkness. It is interesting to look at St Benedict and ask why this man has had such a profound effect on people and society. He disliked the Rome society that he found as a young man and took himself off into the hills. At Subiaco we can sit in his hermit’s cave and we can walk in the small garden and look down the verdant valley from this high viewpoint, so far away from the world, so peaceful, so quiet. That viewpoint from being apart gives a different perspective, a different view on life, a detachment, but it also involves real struggle and hardship.

We see the young hermit who was helped by a brother in charity and invited into community. And yet this threw him into the heart of a community where some of his brothers tried to poison him. What sort of a man was he? Did he write a rule to impose authority, regulation and conformity? Or did he write a rule to try and create and sustain a solid community life, recognising the faults and failings of normal human beings and always trying to give people a chance to develop, to be reconciled, to return to the path and help others to do so.

There is a strong sense of forgiveness and mercy in the Rule along with a clear desire to bring someone to a better place, to change behaviour, with a requirement and expectation to show penitence, apology and humility which is not to humiliate but to heal, reconcile and give consolation. There are many techniques used for discipline including social isolation from the community and even withdrawal of blessing, but there are also many chances given for reconciliation with counsel ,prayer and discretion, using wise people who know the way to the healing of their own wounds and those of others, trying to gather someone back into the fold in a healthy way as a wise physician would treat the sick, as a shepherd would gather a lost sheep, all with the compassion of Christ the Good Shepherd.

In Sacro Speco there are many beautiful frescoes adorning the walls including an image of Our Lady of Mercy with the world gathered beneath her cloak, a motherly protective embrace covering all her children with her garment. That is a beautiful image for the world.

There is an expression agere sequitur esse, that action follows being or action comes out of being. Mary says yes to God because it is her nature to do so, she is being true to her essence of being. St Benedict sought God in solitude being true to his being and this led to a model for community life which has had a profound effect on society. It is interesting to think what actions can come out of our being when that being is aligned to God and deeply rooted in God, personally and collectively.

In 1964 Pope Paul VI declared St Benedict to be a patron saint of Europe in recognition of the effects that Benedictine monasticism has had on the culture of Europe in so many ways along with SS Cyril and Methodius therefore recognising the fraternity and shared collaboration between the great cultures of East and West.

A lot of the rule is predicated on the superior and the community having a collective wisdom and being prepared to use this wisely and judiciously with a sense of balance. We are all called to listen with the ear of the heart. The rule states that there is an aim for “the reaffirmation of love which everyone in the community must achieve through their prayer”.

Love is our being. Agere sequitur esse. We are made to love. Love must then follow love as an action and as being. A flicker of a candle in the darkness is a sign of hope in a darkened world. Pope Gregory the Great called St Benedict a light in the darkness. In July we renew our oblation prayers and pray in hope for the world. The Benedictine motto is for peace. May we show this to one another and may God grant His peace in our world and His light in our darkness.

“Receive me O Lord in accordance with your word and I shall live, and do not disappoint me in the hope that you have given me”

Siegfried Sassoon was a war poet, shaped by his war experiences which brought forth his poetry into a deeply wounded world. It seems appropriate in these troubled times to quote this line from an unpublished poem broadcast on the BBC 1 Antiques Roadshow on 15th May 2022.

“Love is the law of life and love we must. Our first and final purpose to pursue “


Dr Sarah Richards

Benedictine Oblate


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