30 July

"Dear young people, answer generously to Jesus Christ’s call
who invites you to « put out into deep water » and to become his witnesses.
You will discover the trust that Christ puts in you to invent a future with him.
In order to be accomplished, this mission entrusted to you by the Church
first requires cultivating an authentic life of prayer, nourished
by the sacraments, especially by Eucharist and Reconciliation. 

Europe, the Obscure

Monday May 27th 2019
by Alessandro D’Avenia


Europe, a very beautiful daughter of the king of Tyre, is picking flowers by the sea. Suddenly, a white bull appears and approaches her feet. Fascinated by the prodigious animal, she sits down on his rump and what she considers nothing more than a game turns out to be a kidnapping: the bull enters the sea and takes her to the West, towards the beaches of Crete, where he reveals his identity to her: he is Zeus, who does violence to her. Her father sends his sons to pick up their sister, but no one reaches the island. The girl will become the beloved queen of this island. “Europe”, a name of uncertain origin, according to the etymological dictionary of the daring Jean Semerano, finds its roots in the term erebu, used by the ancient peoples of the Semitic Near East to designate the West: “where the Sun disappears”. Europe is therefore the Obscure: kidnapped and raped, she liberates herself, sinks and rises again. When no one is looking for her, she is reborn from her ashes.


In his latest book « Il filo infinito » (The infinite thread), Paolo Rumiz tried to find her in the middle of her ashes. Following the wounds of the earthquake that struck central Italy three years ago, he found her in Nursia, one evening, among the remains of the buildings in the main square: “The ruins of the cathedral were illuminated. Behind the rose window, there was no more nave. That’s when I saw the statue in the middle of the square. It represented a man with a venerable beard and a large tunic, raising his right arm as if to indicate something between heaven and earth. The statue had remained intact in the midst of the destruction and was inscribed SAINT BENEDICT, PROTECTOR OF EUROPE. My heart jumped. Until then, I had not thought at all about this saint and his relationship with Nursia, with the earthquake, with the mother land of the continent of which I was a part. What was this blessing saint saying in the midst of the debris of a world?  Was he saying that Europe was going to lose herself? No, “he was recalling us that at the fall of the Roman Empire it was Benedictine monasticism that had saved Europe. He was telling us that the seeds of reconstruction had been planted at the worst possible time”. In 476 A.D., in fact, the last emperor of the West was assassinated and the barbarians spread. At the same time, among the ruins of the Roman Empire, Benedict was gathering in his small communities men and women who were regaining a good life, made of work, relationships, formation and prayer. For him, the most important thing was to take faithful care of the essential: the Creator and the creatures, each one of them containing his Logos, that is, a plan of love and perfection.


But how did Benedict’s men succeed in this undertaking? Rumiz describes them as follows: « They succeeded in saving Europe without weapons, with the sole force of faith. With the efficiency of a formula: ora et labora. They have saved from annihilation the culture of the ancient world, by reorganizing an abandoned territory. A “laboured” land where, unlike in Asia or Africa, it was almost impossible to distinguish between the work of nature and the work of man”. Do these words evoke a lost past? No, it is Europe’s eternal soul: her vocation precisely lies in these two words expressing what the hand can do. The human hand, called by Kant « the outer brain of the spirit », detached from the earth, opens itself to the world and to heaven, in order to make the world and turn itself towards heaven. The hand that stops studies, prays and works, knows that everything it encounters, things and people, must be preserved and cultivated. How did Benedict educate people’s hands?


Born in Nursia in 480 A.D., to a wealthy family, the young Benedict went to Rome for his studies. As the city was in decline, he decided to withdraw not far from there, in the Apennines of Lazio, where he developed the idea of a small community, in the service of God and the world. The monastery is in fact an entire society built like a family. The abbot (from Abba, meaning father in Hebrew), takes care of his children: monks and people living in the surroundings. Free or slave, noble or peasant, learned or ignorant, Roman or barbarian, everyone does all jobs without distinction. Everyone, inside and outside the monastery, is called to a double work: that of God and that of the hands, called respectively by Benedict: “Opus Dei” (prayer and study) and “opus manuum” (manual work). The latter is no longer for slaves but for all, as the original work of man, placed by God in the garden, as the Genesis tells us, in order to cultivate it and lead it to perfection. Europe is thus sown “in a network of model farms, breeding centres, centres of culture, spiritual fervour, art of living, the will to act, in a word, a high-level civilization emerging from the tumultuous flows of barbarism. Saint Benedict is undoubtedly the Father of Europe”. These are the words of the great sociologist Leo Moulin who, in his “Daily life according to saint Benedict”, shows the impact of the Benedictine way of life: even the word “Parliamentum” was invented in medieval Latin in a monastic context, to designate the first supranational assembly of abbeys in 1115. Europe was born from the Benedictine synthesis of the transcendental and the terrestrial, as evidenced by the invention of true masterpieces: viticulture and beekeeping, medicinal art through plants, agriculture of difficult soils, embryonic system of deposits and loans, scriptoria to copy and meditate on ancient texts, children’s education, abbeys architecture, etc. The Benedictine rule was not only a simple reaction to the power vacuum, but the affirmation of man’s eternal vocation: to care for the world and others by clearing the heart, mind and land. An ascending and descending humanism, the soul of Europe: thought and action inspired by the fact that reality is the mission entrusted by God to man, for his development and that of his brothers and sisters. A humanism attentive to the care of both the soul and the table: how many know that words like breakfast, food, lunch have their roots in Benedictine life?


At the turn of the second and the third millennia, in his great masterpiece “After virtue”, the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, analysing the crisis of modernity from the limits of the liberal and Marxist model, wrote: “Benedict’s greatness is to have made possible the foundation of the monastery based on prayer, study and work, where and around which communities could not only survive but develop in an age of social and cultural obscurity. The effects of Benedict’s vision and its repercussions were largely unpredictable. Our time is also a time of waiting for new and unexpected possibilities for renewal. But it is also a period of cautious and courageous resistance to the prevailing social, economic and political order”. Relying on Benedict does not mean imitating an archaeological model but inventing one that is inspired by “the construction of local forms of communities in which civilization and moral and intellectual life can be preserved through the new dark centuries that already surround us. We are waiting: not for Godot but for another saint Benedict, probably very different”. Europe was born from Benedict’s art of living, from which an unprecedented working culture was developed, based on the search for harmony between nature and civilization, the seed of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the development of all that is human in man: his earthly and celestial life. The new Benedicts will have to relaunch the European paideia, a transcendent and immanent humanism (open to the other and to the Other), that knows how to respond, with a renewed “ora et labora” to contemporary challenges, without withdrawing from the world but rather by renewing it from inside, starting from work and the family. Otherwise, we will succumb to the illusion of salvation “from the outside”, described by Kavafis in Waiting for the Barbarians, a poem about what happens to civilizations in which the staging of power stifles life: everyone is paralyzed by the imminent arrival of the barbarians but : “night has fallen and the barbarians have not come. Some, who are coming from the borders, say that there are no more barbarians. But then, what are we going to do without the barbarians? These people were a solution.” 

The life of the individual and of peoples does not come from the outside but from the liberation of inner energies, now imprisoned by fear, individualism and nihilism. The bed to be redone is to rediscover the harmony between the work of hands and God’s work: without a transcendent and immanent, earthly and celestial sense of life, the world becomes the theatre of chance and therefore the law of the strongest. If guided only by immediate and selfish impulses, the hand closes and turns against the earth and others, unable to make the world and relations. “A fragrant wind entered the ruins and I felt that in my world key words such as silence, devotion, spirit of sacrifice had been liquidated or had lost their meaning. Even the word “Europe” had been lost »: the wind of rebirth mentioned by Rumiz is not to be found in the vote, which will give a salary to the feverishly diligent politicians during the election campaigns,  and quantify who will sit on the throne of swords, but in the daily and constant action of the truly European souls (from anemos, meaning wind in Greek), like that of Benedict.  

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