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Saint Benedict
by [?]

When sunrise came, there sat the monk, his face between his knees, the folds of his black robe drawn over his head. But he did not rise and lift his hands in prayer.

All day he sat there, motionless.

The people watched in whispered silence. Would he arise at sundown and pray, and with outstretched hands bless the assembled pilgrims?

But as they watched a vulture came sailing slowly through the blue ether, and circled nearer and nearer; and off on the horizon was another–and still another, circling nearer and nearer.

* * * * *

In humanity’s march of progress there are a vanguard and a rearguard. The rearguard dwindles away into a mob of camp-followers, who follow for diversion and to escape starvation. Both the vanguard and the rearguard are out of step with the main body, and therefore both are despised by the many who make up the rank and file.

And yet, out of pity, the main body supplies ambulances and “slum-workers,” who aim to do “good”–but this good is always for the rearguard and the camp-followers, never for those who lead the line of march, and take the risk of ambush and massacre.

But this scorn of the vanguard has its recompense–often delayed, no doubt–but those who compose it are the only ones whom history honors and Clio crowns. If they get recognition in life, it is wrung tardily from an ungrateful and ungracious world. And this is the most natural thing in the world, and it would be a miracle if it were otherwise, for the very virtue of the vanguard consists in that their acts outrun human sympathy.

Benedict was a scout of civilization. In his day he led the vanguard. He found the prosperous part of the world given over to greed and gluttony. The so-called religious element was in partnership with fraud, superstition, ignorance, incompetence, and an asceticism like that of Simeon Stylites, leading to nothing.

Men know the good and grow through experience. To realize the worthlessness of place and position and of riches, you must have been at some time in possession of these. Benedict was born into a rich Roman family, in the year Four Hundred Eighty. His parents wished to educate him for the law, so he would occupy a position of honor in the State.

But at sixteen years of age, at that critical time when nerves are vibrating between manhood and youth, Benedict cut the umbilical domestic cord, and leaving his robes of purple and silken finery, suddenly disappeared, leaving behind a note which was doubtless meant to be reassuring and which was quite the reverse, for it failed to tell where his mail should be forwarded. He had gone to live with a hermit in the fastnesses of the mountains. He had desired to do something peculiar, strange, unusual, unique and individual, and now he had done it.

Back of it all was the Cosmic Urge, with a fair slip of a girl, and meetings by stealth in the moonlight; and then those orders from his father to give up the girl, which he obeyed with a vengeance.

Monasticism is a reversal or a misdirection of the Cosmic Urge. The will brought to bear in fighting temptation might be a power for good, if used in co-operation with Nature. But Nature to the priestly mind has always been bad. The worldly mind was one that led to ruin. To be good by doing good was an idea the monkish mind had not grasped. His way of being good was to be nothing, do nothing–just resist. Successfully to fight temptation, the Oriental Monk regarded as an achievement.

One day, out on that perilous and slippery rock on the mountain-side, Benedict ceased saluting the Holy Virgin long enough to conceive a thought. It was this: To be acceptable to God, we must do something in the way of positive good for man. To pray, to adore, to wander, to suffer, is not enough. We must lighten the burdens of the toilers and bring a little joy into their lives. Suffering has its place, but too much suffering would destroy the race.