St. Benedict and the Saints of October
Curiously, St. Francis was born about 700 years after St. Benedict was born — and St. Thérèse was born about 700 years after St. Thérèse. Both of them show the lasting effect. St. Benedict had on the Church, especially through its religious orders. But both also exemplify Benedictine College Values. The college spotlights both of them on its alumni
“Work and Pray” is a major Benedictine virtue. The Benedictine College values say: “We believe our Ora et Labora cooperates in God’s plan to make all things new. Always be in conversation with God through prayer and value the dignity of all work and human activity. We believe that the divine presence is everywhere.”
“That in all things God may be glorified,” says the Rule of St. Benedict (57:9) “They live by the labor of their own hands.” RB 19:1
St. Francis of Assisi was born to wealthy parents in around 1181. St. Francis had a carefree childhood. This carefree disposition carried into his young adult life, where he cavorted wildly with his friends. He wanted something more than that lifestyle though, and sought out glory and honor through knighthood. After leaving for the crusades, however, he felt that God was calling him to return home.
Returning home without seeing battle was humiliating for Francis and his family’s honor. Convicted in his call to leave the crusades and return home, he continued to turn to God in prayer for further direction. His prayer led him to the ruins of San Damiano, a small church outside of Assisi. While he was praying there, Christ on the crucifix spoke to him, saying, “Francis, rebuild my church.” Thinking Christ meant the ruins of San Damiano, he set out to rebuild it. Francis sold fabric from his father’s store to get enough money to rebuild San Damiano. His father, already enraged by his son’s decision to leave the crusades, took this to be an act of theft and brought Francis before the bishop to confront him. There, the bishop told Francis to return what he owed his father and that God would provide for the church. It was then that Francis declared that he would only call God his Father and began his life of radical poverty. By begging for stones, Francis rebuilt San Damiano with his own hands.
Soon Francis began to preach. Others began to join him in his choice to live with full reliance on God. This lead to the founding of the Franciscans. They followed the call of Jesus to sell all they had, give to the poor, and to take nothing on their journey. They worked for all they needed and only begged if they had to, never accepting any money. Despite the radical nature of this call, the Franciscans grew to 5000 in ten years.
St. Francis died around the year 1226. We celebrate his feast day on October 4.
St. Thérèse was born in 1873 to saintly parents, Louis and Zélie Martin. They had desired to enter the religious life, but instead this vocation belonged to each of their 5 daughters. Thérèse was the youngest of her sisters and was thought to be a spoiled child as the result. She was, however, always striving for holiness, perhaps influenced by her Benedictine education.
After the death of her mother, Thérèse became very close to her older sisters. Two of them entered the Carmelites in Lisieux, and she desired to join their order as well. She applied at the age of 15, but was denied entry because of her young age. Convicted by the call to enter, she went to Rome to ask the permission of Pope Leo XIII. She entered the community on April 9, 1888.
She spent the 11 remaining years of her life in the convent in Lisieux. It was here that she discovered what she called her true vocation, a vocation to love. “What matters in life is not great deeds but great love,” she said. We know of her “little way” from her autobiography Story of a Soul that was commissioned by her Superior. Throughout this time Thérèse experienced harsh periods of darkness as well as severe illness. She died of tuberculosis in 1897 at only 24 years old.
She was canonized 28 years after her death, and has been called “the greatest saint of modern times.” In 1997, Saint John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church. She is the patroness of missionaries and we celebrate her feast day on October 1.