On March 21, Benedictines around the world celebrate the “transitus“ of St. Benedict, the day Benedict entered eternity. “Transitus” in Latin means passing from one state to the next—death is not the end of life, but the transition into eternity with God. It is one of two days that St. Benedict is recognized on the Benedictine calendar.
Since this feast day is always during Lent, another commemoration date was set when Pope Paul VI declared St. Benedict the Patron of Europe at the rededication of the Church at Monte Cassino on July 11, 1964. July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict for the Universal Church. Only Mary, the mother of Jesus and John the Baptist are remembered with both their birthdays and their day of entry into heaven.
St. Gregory the Great writes about St. Benedict’s last days:
“Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately, he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.” (St. Gregory the Great, Book Two of Dialogues, chapter 37).
Feedback is always welcome if there are topics, resources, inspiration or information you would like to see at BeingBenedictine. For more information and inspiration on St. Benedict and his Rule, here are a few resources–
Podcasts and blog about the Rule St. Benedict and Benedictine spirituality by Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of St. Anselmo’s in Rome.
St. Benedict Center blog includes newsletters from Fr. Thomas including information about upcoming retreats, building needs, news from the monastery and inspiration for your daily life.
Six years ago today, my father-in-law Marv passed away—so today, more than usual, I am thinking of him and missing our kitchen table conversations. We would talk about politics and religion, the economy and education, and the best brands of Cabernet for the cheapest prices. After sharing his wisdom, attempting to solve world problems, and philosophizing over a glass of wine, Marv would throw up his hands in disbelief and exclaim, “What do I know? I don’t know nothin’.”
He had thoughts, opinions and plenty of experience, but, self-admittedly, he felt he still didn’t know much. Marv said it often enough that it was the opening line in the eulogy my husband gave for his dad’s funeral. This phrase, “I don’t know nothin’” holds so much meaning, far beyond a simple or flippant segue into another subject, rather I believe he was saying “I have ideas, but I will stay open to other possibilities.”
I’m sure there was a time or two when he knew exactly how things should be, but they didn’t turn out the way he expected, as so often happens. Perhaps he meant—I surrender needing to know. Perhaps he meant—I don’t know it all. I don’t know the big picture. I don’t have all the answers. I thought I knew a lot, but now, I wonder if I know much at all. I am humbled by what I do not know.
I’m not sure if Marv meant all those things when he said “I don’t know nothin’,” but it does show that he left room for not knowing, for mystery. He knew he wasn’t in charge of all things true… and he admitted it many, many times. Marvin’s expression of humility is the bedrock of being Benedictine. According to St. Benedict, “Divine Scripture calls to us saying, ‘Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.’” (RB 7:1) Marv was willing to share his wisdom, but he also knew he didn’t know everything. We could stand a little more of Marv’s humility in this country.
My husband, Joe, also shared this about his father: “My dad was one of the most caring men I knew… Even with seven kids in a small house…he opened our home up to pregnant teenage girls at a time when it was not socially acceptable to do so. He didn’t care what other people thought.
He helped Vietnamese refugees acclimate themselves to American culture. He would take them around and show them how things are done in the United States. He would spend his time volunteering in prison ministries.
He was always concerned about those less fortunate than him. I think his main concern is whether people in this world would get enough to eat. There isn’t one kid, grandchild or even a friend or two that he hasn’t helped or offered to help at one time and he never expected anything in return…He truly had a passion for helping others, a giving heart… When we were kids, it didn’t matter what friend we brought home, my dad would say “there is room for one more at the table, come and join us…welcome!”
St. Benedict instructed his monks, “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me(Matt 25:35)” (RB 53:1) Marv, although he didn’t call it that, was being Benedictine. He lived and breathed hospitality.
Marv was almost 80 years old when he died, but age doesn’t really matter when we are on a journey to knowing (and unknowing) ourselves. Marv was a humble man who gave of himself in so many ways. If this is what knowing nothin’ is like, sign me up. We could all stand to be a bit more like Marvin.
Joe closed the eulogy for his dad with this beautiful image—“Now that he is in Heaven with Pappy, Grandma Alice, Grandpa Ambrose, Grandmother Margaret, brothers Gerald and Don, sister Doris and all those who went before him….they are all seated at the Father’s table and they are saying, “Marvin, there is room for one more at the Father’s table, come and join us….welcome home!”
“God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7) Joe’s mother was also a compassionate, cheerful giver. Read more about Mary Gehr here. In honor of their generosity and hospitality, we dedicated a park bench at the front doors of St. Benedict Center, an ecumenical retreat center with a mission of hospitality, to Marvin and Mary Gehr.
I’ve written before about choosing a “Word of the Year.” This year, I chose a phrase to serve as my spiritual mantra—three life-changing words that came as a gift of grace when I felt torn between two possibilities and needed to make a difficult decision.
For me, the process of discernment, especially when I have strong feelings or attachments, often begins with compulsive mental role-playing. I replay conversations—what was said, what was meant, what could have been said, and now what? Once I am able to slow down my thoughts, create some space, and breathe, I can face a decision more calmly and with a spiritual perspective. I write out my thoughts and feelings, ask questions of myself and God, and listen to what might be beneath the words. I write as prayer, knowing that, so often, an answer is revealed.
The decision I needed to make felt particularly heartbreaking. Feeling desperate, I reached out to a spiritual companion and asked for prayers.
Asking for prayers was admitting I needed help.
Asking for prayers was an act of vulnerability, humility, and surrender for me.
Asking for prayers helped me to be even more prayerful about my situation. I surrendered to God for the answer that my obsessive thinking would not bring. Asking for prayers opened me for the words that came.Continue reading “You Are Free”→