Monte Cassino – A Lesson for the Church in the New Year
He came, Saint Benedict and his followers, in the early 6th Century to the base of a 1,700 foot mount some 81 miles southeast of Rome, and envisioned the building of the monastery of Monte Cassino. From this beginning and from Benedict's Rule, thousands of Benedictine monasteries would spread throughout Europe. The monastery and its monks faced great challenges over the nearly 1500 years since its inception: it was sacked by barbarians in the 6th Century, destroyed by pirates in the 9th Century, wracked by an earthquake in the 14th Century, pillaged by an invading army in the 18th Century, and bombed by Allied bombers during World War II in the 20th Century. That was quite a lot of rough treatment for a bastion of prayer, faith, and charity to endure. The history of Monte Cassino reveals an important lesson for the Church Universal in the 21st Century. After all of the destructive workings of both man and nature upon the monastery of Saint Benedict, the monks returned and rebuilt it.
From the persecutions of Roman emperors, barbaric armies, heretical Christians, and unbelievers of every sort, the bulwark that is the Church has had to persevere and to rebuild itself. Fundamental to rebuilding is evangelization – of one's self and of the world. While the work of spreading the Gospel has its roots in the mission of the apostles and is essential to living any form of Christian life, yet, many Catholics find it awkward witnessing to the faith and feel ill-prepared to answer questions of faith. There is a great deal of help available. The following statements by Catholic lay evangelists are taken from an article by Jim Graves, Lessons from Catholic Evangelists, The Catholic World Report:
We should seek to listen a lot more than preach, at first. If someone is open to the message, there will be plenty of time to talk in the future. If they're not, we can't push it. The Holy Spirit and God's grace changes hearts. We're simply vessels for that purpose. We must be charitable at all times and avoid being overbearing and obnoxious like the plague.
No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Potential converts must first experience an evangelist's love and caring before they will listen to Catholic teaching or accept an invitation to Church.
The first tip to would-be evangelists: do nothing. 1 Peter 3:15 says, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope! Peter says, "Be ready," don't jump-start a conversation. Wait for an open door.
This is a time for resolving, promising, and setting goals. If you want to be a person of faith, a person who disperses the murky clouds of unbelief, be a self-evangelizer first and then bring that growing, authentic interior faith to the exterior world. Through making this effort, the curious but skeptical seeker will find in you honesty, integrity, and a willingness to admit that you are continuing the process of growth yourself.
My father often told me that if you want to do a job correctly, you need the right tools. St. Francis of Assisi went about the business of rebuilding God's Church and his namesake, Pope Francis has challenged the faithful to join him in doing the same thing. We need to make of ourselves the "right tools." As this New Year unfolds, I pray that, like the monks of Monte Cassino, we tenaciously and single-mindedly pursue the on-going task of refurbishing and re-creating the "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" by the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the "sweat equity" of we who believe.