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Life of Saint Benedict: Miracles at Subiaco

Updated: May 11, 2022

“St. Benedict actually built 12 monasteries around Subiaco, each with a superior and 12 monks. He also served as abbot over these monasteries, governing with special wisdom and power from God. He worked many miracles which are strongly reminiscent of those in Scripture, such that St. Gregory's interlocutor, Peter, said he must have the “spirit of all the just.” St. Gregory corrected him that it was not by the saints of old that St. Benedict performed his miracles but by the Holy Spirit, who likewise filled those holy men. The miracles are a sign of his being filled with the Spirit of God and are like a seal of approval on his way of life.”

“Once there was a monk in one of his monasteries who would always sneak off during times of silent prayer to do anything else. His superior could not get through to him, so he sent the monk to St. Benedict to admonish him. But nothing worked, and the monk went back to his old ways. Later St. Benedict saw a little boy with a sinister appearance tugging on the monk’s garment during prayer and pulling him out.

Realizing the monk’s strange behavior was the work of a demon, St. Benedict and other monks prayed for two days, and then when the monk went out again during prayer, St. Benedict struck him with a rod afterwards, casting the demon away. The monk never had that trouble with silent prayer again.

In addition to giving him power against the devil, the Lord also gave St. Benedict miracles to supply the needs of the community. He was perhaps not the greatest of architects, but his prayers even supplied what he was lacking in that. After St. Benedict had three of his monasteries at Subiaco built on the top of a cliff with a beautiful view, the monks went to him concerned that they might have to rebuild the monasteries elsewhere because of one important problem: The water they needed had to be carried from the base of the mountain all the way up to the top of the steep cliff each day. The saint, however, was not perturbed and assured them that everything would be all right. He went to the mountaintop to pray, and placed three stones where he had prayed. Then he told the monks to dig ” “where they found the three stones. When they followed his instructions, a spring miraculously bubbled up, like the water that Moses brought forth out of the rock in the desert. This stream permanently supplied their needs so that the monks’ energies could be spent on better things.

Once while clearing out a garden on the side of the lake, one of the monks was using a sickle when the blade flew off the handle and landed in the middle of the water, quickly sinking to the bottom. The monk became very upset and anxious and confessed his fault to one of his fellow monks. St. Gregory tells us that the monk who lost the sickle blade was a Goth and that he was a sincere and simple man. Medieval studies scholar Carmen Butcher, in her book A Life of St. Benedict, suggests that as a Goth—a member of the race of the occupying forces—he was perhaps a former soldier of theirs, used to harsh punishment for simple mistakes. Also, as a monk, he would have been taught to respect the tools they worked with because with them they did the work of God. Seeing him in such anguish over this mishap, the other monk called over St. Benedict, who came down and took the empty handle and placed it in the water. The sickle blade was drawn from the bed of the lake up to the surface and back onto the handle. Then the abbot returned the miraculously restored tool to the monk and comforted him saying, “Continue with your work now. There is no need to be upset.”

“Many of St. Benedict’s miracles echoed ones recorded in Scripture, as with the following miracle. St. Benedict was entrusted by a number of Roman families with bringing up their boys in the monastery and preparing them for life as monks. He was quite fond of two brothers—Marus and his younger brother Placid—who St. Gregory often points out as accompanying him in his special prayers and a number of his miracles. One day while Brother Placid was still very young and unable to swim, he fell in the stream while fetching water and was carried off into the middle of the lake. St. Benedict was immediately told by God of the boy’s plight. So, he quickly summoned his brother Marus, commanded him to go and rescue “Brother Placid in the middle of the lake, gave him his blessing, and sent him off to the task. But as Brother Marus raced towards Brother Placid, he never jumped into the water or swam to him but rather ran straight to him at full speed, pulling him out and bringing him back to the shore.”

“Brother Marus had been given the grace through St. Benedict’s prayers to walk on water like the Apostle Peter, having faith in his superior’s command. He did not even realize what he was doing and attributed what had happened solely to God’s grace through St. Benedict’s prayers. Brother Placid also said later that he had felt St. Benedict’s cloak embracing him and bringing him safely home.

Despite his miracles and exorcisms, not everyone was fond of St. Benedict. As Jesus said, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first” (Jn. 15:18 [NABRE]). A nearby priest named Florentinus became very envious of St. Benedict because the people flocked to the abbot for spiritual guidance and inspiration rather than to him. Furthermore, while envying the saint’s virtue, the priest had no desire to follow his same path to virtue. Florentinus went so far as to send St. Benedict a poisoned loaf, ironically making the semblance of a customary token of Christian fellowship (see p. 75 in Butcher’s A Life of St. Benedict)”

“The abbot knew it was poisoned but thanked the priest nonetheless. Like the prophet Elisha, St. Benedict spoke to a raven and gave it instructions: It was to dispose of the poisoned loaf in a deserted area. At first the raven would not do it, but the saint commanded it again, and it obeyed. After some time, Florentinus saw that the abbot was alive and well, so he plotted spiritual ruin on St. Benedict’s monks. He tempted them by sending seven naked girls to frolic about in their courtyard, instructing them to stay there a long time so the monks would be swayed to lust."

“Seeing that his adversary would stop at nothing and that the whole affair was potentially becoming quite destructive to the community, “St. Benedict resolved that he himself would leave since the priest’s envy was directed only against him. Leaving his first monasteries in the hands of worthy superiors, this closure would open up a new chapter for St. Benedict at a new monastery he would build at Monte Cassino. But before he reached his destination, Brother Marus ran up to him on the way and happily informed him that God had struck down Florentinus in judgment—that the walls of the room Florentinus was in crashed down upon him and killed him. St. Benedict, however, was saddened and chastised Brother Marus for being so glad at such somber news.”

Excerpt From: Wyatt North. “The Life and Prayers of Saint Benedict.”

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July 11 is the feast day of Saint Benedict of Nursia. Pray for us to God O Saint of Christ Jesus. Amen

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