Above: Icon of St. Benedict the African
Image in the Public Domain
SAINT BENEDICT THE AFRICAN (1526-APRIL 4, 1589)
Franciscan Friar and Hermit
Also known as Saint Benedict the Moor and Saint Benedict the Black
St. Benedict the African embodied the virtue of humility.
The saint’s parents were Christianized African slaves in Sicily. They had even received Italian names–Cristoforo Manasseri and Diana Manasseri. Their masters deemed them to be loyal servants. As a result their son entered the world at San Fratello in 1526 as a free person.
St. Benedict manifested virtues throughout his lifetime. He, a member of the peasant class, was, like most members of his class, illiterate. He worked as a shepherd during his youth, giving to the poor readily. At age 21 St. Benedict joined an independent group of Franciscan hermits. For about seven years he worked as a cook. Then, at age 28, he became the leader of that group. Pope Pius IV ended the existence of independent monastic groups in 1564, so St. Benedict joined the Order of Friars Minor at the Friary of St. Mary of Jesus, Palermo, Sicily. He began as a cook, became the master of novices eventually, served a term as the superior, and ended his days as a cook again. (St. Benedict enjoyed cooking.) The respected monk was a sought-out counselor and a humble man.
St. Benedict died at Palermo on April 4, 1589.
Leadership is important in societies, organizations, and political systems. Too often those who aspire to positions of leadership seek their own good, even if that is merely the maintenance of one’s ego. I have watched this play out on small states–in rural congregations. Some of the people who have exercised authority–with or without a title–have had dysfunctional egos. Those with inadequate self-images have used authority to feel better about themselves, and those with out-of-control egos have used authority to confirm their self-images. Other people and the congregations themselves have paid the high price for dysfunctional egos.
Among the theological terms I find bothersome in its traditional English translation is “fear of God,” The word “fear,” in contemporary usage, conveys one concept, which differs from what that term is supposed to convey. The proper meaning of “fear of God” is being awe-struck in the presence of God, therefore aware of one’s inadequacy compared to God. That is a healthy spiritual state of being, one which fosters humility.
Leadership, especially in the Church–is properly about building up the faith community. Status, as a means of boosting a sagging ego or demonstrating one’s perceived superiority, has no proper place. In church we are supposed to glorify, God, not ourselves.
St. Benedict the African understood that lesson well and acted accordingly.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
DECEMBER 17, 2015 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER
O God, by whose grace your servant St. Benedict the African,
kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church:
Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline,
and walk before you as children of light;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Psalm 133 or 34:1-8 or 119:161-168
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 723