This week, we celebrate the memorial of St. Benedict (July 11). A few years ago, I had the privilege of traveling to Italy and visiting the abbey at Monte Cassino. This is the first of the Benedictine monasteries in the world. It was here where St. Benedict put his faith into practice in a radical way. He knew that his calling to holiness was found in establishing a community of individuals who were unified in their belief in Jesus Christ as well as their efforts to become holy.
To accomplish this goal of holiness, St. Benedict, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote his motto for the entire Benedictine Order: “Ora et labora,” which translates to: “Prayer and work.” It was this simple motto that was the guide for the monastic life of the Benedictines as well as many other religious orders throughout the world.
St. Benedict knew that it was essential for the path of holiness to combine both contemplation (prayer) with labor (work). When these two were in the necessary balance, one would find the ideal of not only the religious life, but also the life of any Catholic. In the Gospel of Luke, we find the passage of the two sisters who meet Jesus, Martha and Mary. One chooses to labor for their guest, while the other sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to him. Many commentators on Scripture have seen the symbolism in the two sisters as being the representation of the two aspects of the life of a Catholic.
So how does this apply to us non-monks? Typically, we Catholics will forget to live well one, or both of these aspects of the Catholic life. Firstly, the Catholic life requires us to live a life of prayer. It is very tempting to dedicate ourselves to the labors of life that we will fail to have time for prayer. We will claim that we are too busy, or that we have too many responsibilities or that others around us require so much of our time, especially children. And so, the prayer life slips away. I think of St. Teresa of Calcutta when I think that I do not have enough time to pray. Here was a woman who had hundreds of people seeking her attention, and yet she led a life of deep prayer. I too, can choose to have a life of prayer. If you have children, bring them to prayer with you. What a gift to teach your children both how to pray and the importance of prayer. It is only through prayer that we open ourselves to the graces that God offers us so that we can become the holy people we are made to be.
We can also be tempted to fail to enter into the labora of the Catholic life. It is tempting to want to spend all of our lives in prayer just to “get away from it all.” We can dedicate our time to prayer and hope to avoid the labor of following the work that God has put in front of us. Like St. Peter on the mountain top, when the transfiguration occurred, Peter desired to remain up there and not go into the world, yet Jesus called him down to labor for the kingdom of God. So too, we must be about the work of our calling. As priests, we must write our homilies and visit the sick. As married couples, tending to the needs of the children and your spouse. As single people, serving those who need assistance and looking out for the spiritual needs of our parish and broader community.
This week, let us all pay attention to the motto of the great St. Benedict and live out our own personal calling to Ora and Labora.