Memorial of Saint Benedict

 Gn 44:18-21; 23-29; 45:1-5; Ps 105:16-21; Mt 10: 7-15

From the mouth of each Benedictine comes the antiphon, “Sustain me, O Lord, as you have promised that I may live and disappoint me not in my hope.”  Saint Benedict knew that everyone serious about a prayer life had to be sustained by the LORD.  Early on in the monastic life, or in the life of anyone who seeks the LORD, there is an insatiable desire to declare the praises of God.  Early enthusiasm arises from the initial conversion experience; God, in his goodness and compassion has wiped out our offenses. The LORD has washed us from guilt and cleansed us of sin.  What else can we do?  Praise is as natural as breathing at this point.  Yet, if we are to continue growing in holiness, a journey into the heart is essential.  In our inmost being we must learn the wisdom of the ages.  The Holy Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict provides a distillation of the wisdom from of old.  He takes the Sacred Scriptures as his true teacher.  His followers are exposed to that word hour after hour, and they use that word to pray through the day.  Indeed, today’s responsorial Psalm is the first daily prayer of many monks.  Each day the monks repent and seek purity of heart. This is a life-long adventure; seeking purity of heart is the center of all monastic prayer.  Indeed, it is a willing spirit and the joy of salvation that opens our lips and enables our mouths to proclaim God’s praise.  This steadfast spirit is not just the motivation for the initial joy of conversion.  It is a spirit that renews the sincerity of heart.


In his first visit to the Synagogue of Rome our holy father Pope John XXIII greeted the rabbis and the assembly of Jews with, “I am Joseph.”  This startling message revealed a whole new approach for the mission of the church to the sons of Israel.  This message was a marvel in their ears, and their hearts were full of hope after centuries of tension and violence between these two communities of faith.  We are called by the psalm to remember the marvels the Lord has done.  The Lord has been faithful to his covenant and this faithfulness gives us hope.  The brothers of Joseph were startled by his compassion and forgiveness.  It was the faith of Joseph that enabled him to see the hand of God in his release from prison.  It was that same faith that enabled Joseph to be reconciled with those who had sold him into slavery.  Such marvels continue to astound those who hear and respond with joy to the call of the Lord Jesus to do what he did.  What we have received without cost we are to give without charge.


The profound drama of the revelation of Joseph’s true identity to his brothers is still a marvel to behold.  We can only glimpse the wonder as we hear how dumbfounded they were at Joseph.  How could anyone so rejected be so accepting? This marvel is too far beyond our weak human nature.  This is truly an act of God.  Not only was Joseph sold into slavery he was falsely accused by his master’s wife. She wanted a casual fling with this attractive slave, but Joseph was too loyal to his master.  To protect her own reputation she put all the blame on Joseph and testified that he was the one who made a move to violate her marriage bed. It was her word against his.  No slave’s testimony held sway over a lady’s protestations.  He was weighted down with fetters and bound with chains.  The Lord protected his faithful servant and in time his predictions came to pass and the word of the Lord proved him true.  By the time his brothers came to seek his favor, Joseph was the equal of Pharaoh.  However, this position of power did not poison his heart.  The kindness of the Lord had taught Joseph to show kindness to even those who had betrayed him. Joseph, the powerless dreamer, became Joseph the powerful lord.  Unlike his brothers he did not use his power to seek revenge; he did not lord it over them. His newfound power in a world full of hunger did not make him dangerous. Even in their rejection, Joseph could see by faith that it was really for the sake of saving lives that God had sent him to Egypt ahead of his brothers.  Such a marvel changes human hearts and molds human behavior to be like the Creator.


During his public ministry the Lord Jesus summoned his followers to continue his mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  After his death and resurrection, just before he ascended into heaven, the Lord Jesus sent his disciples out to all the nations.  This universal mission of the church does not mean that the house of Israel is to be ignored.  However, as we have painfully learned from our failures, we are not to use force of any kind to convert the Jews.  Our mission to the entire world, Jews and Gentiles alike, is to be carried out with the compassion of the New Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is the love and tender mercies of Christ that we encounter here in the Eucharist that will empower and direct all our efforts to proclaim, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”