St. Benedict and Beauty

The following prayer is one of my favorites, so even though it is outranked this year by Passion Sunday, I thought I’d write about it on, what would be, the Solemnity of the Transitus of Our Holy Father Benedict. It is a prayer for a happy death based on St. Benedict’s visions to St. Gertrude the Great, wherein he promised that those who would remind him of his own glorious death daily would have his assistance in the hour of death. This is why, alongside St. Joseph, he is considered the patron of a happy death.

Prayer to St. Benedict

Ant. Standing in the oratory, Benedict, the beloved of the Lord, his soul strengthened by the Body and Blood of the Lord, his failing limbs upheld in the arm of his disciples, his hands raised up to heaven, with words of prayer on his lips, breathed forth his soul which was seen ascending to heaven along a way richly covered and aglow with countless lights.

V. Thou has appeared glorious in the sight of the Lord.
R. Wherefore the Lord has surrounded thee with beauty.

Let us pray: O God, who has enriched the precious death of our holy Father Benedict with favors to many and so great; grant us, we beseech Thee, that he, whose memory we now honor, may protect us in the hour of death from all the wiles of our enemies. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

One of the things that has consistently struck me about this prayer after years of praying it is the versicle:

V. Thou has appeared glorious in the sight of the Lord.
R. Wherefore the Lord has surrounded thee with beauty.

These words describe how the Holy person appears in heaven for the first time: glorious in the sight of the Lord! Words cannot express how the soul of such a one would thrill standing in the sight of the Most High God, terrible in glory and majesty, the awesome Just Judge of all, and to be wrapped in the very glory of the selfsame Lord. One can imagine what that may be like, but our futile imaginings cannot compare to the reality in the least.

Then comes the second part of the versicle: Wherefore the Lord has surrounded thee with beauty. Again, our feeble human minds cannot fathom the beauty that awaits the just in heaven. Scripture gives us some idea, particularly in the Apocalypse, with its description of golden streets, the jewel studded walls, its gates of pearl, the river of living water and the trees that line it. But what our minds conjure up hearing these things are mere tips of the iceberg of beauty that awaits us, who are faithful, in heaven.

The most beautiful thing in heaven, however, is not a mere object of beauty like gates and rivers. It is the Lamb that stands upon the heavenly Altar as though slain; Jesus the Messiah, the Savior of mankind. He is the beauty that St. Benedict is surrounded with, and if we are faithful and persevere till the end, we too will be surrounded in the Lord’s own beauty.

Beauty is something I have always sought, which is probably why this prayer appeals to me so much. Those who have visited my home will note that I try to literally surround myself with beauty. Whether statues, prints, or, my favorite things of beauty, eastern icons, there is not a place where I am not surrounded by earthy beauty, which contains a glimpse of the heavenly beauty. My family tells me I have too many icons and statues. I don’t think that is possible! Until I ascend that way covered and aglow with countless lights with St. Benedict, I want as many beautiful things surrounding me, as a constant reminder of the goal: to be surrounded by heavenly beauty.

Besides, this world is so full of ugliness, and we should fight it, because it speaks to us of hell, rather than heaven. The devil is ugly, and he goes about spreading ugliness. The ugliness of disease, sin, violence, war, blasphemy, abuse of all kinds, and the ugliness of idolatry are at the top of the list. Then, who could forget the ugliness of the actions of priests who put themselves in the place of God by making the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass about themselves? Who could forget the ugliness perpetrated upon the faithful by taking away our beautiful and rich liturgical heritage, only to replace it with banal, man centered services that resembles a concert with the priest as the headliner than a beautiful act of adoration directed to god, full of beauty?

Yes, so much ugliness to resist. Why not sooth our sorrowing souls with beauty?

But in the end, as much as we need to resist the devil and the ugliness he spreads, we must realize that true beauty is found not in this world, but in the next. The beautiful things of this world are merely a foretaste of beauty of heaven. This should make us long for heaven. This should make us long for eternal beauty. To gaze into the eyes of Jesus, or gaze upon the saints in glory, surrounded by beauty, will make all the beauty of this world, beautiful as it is, seem like so much rubbish.

One of the things that I have learned having ALS is that among the ALS community, and there are more of us than you would think, there is a great longing for heaven. Our lives are wrapped in so much ugliness. The ugliness of no longer being able to enjoy our favorite food, no longer being able to savor the beer from the monks in Norcia, wetting the bed, needing assistance in the bathroom, no longer able to carry on a “normal” conversation, coughing fits, not being able to breathe well, and the list goes on and will only get worse, not better. But the ugliness is actually a gift, because it increases the virtue of hope. Hope in God. Hope in heaven. Hope in the illusive beauty which exists only in heaven. Some days it’s as if there is one giant cry that goes up from the hearts of those who have ALS, a cry for heaven and beauty.

For many of us, like myself, we still have much to do, and so we don’t want to go just yet. But every night when I remember the precious death of my Holy Father St. Benedict, the desire grows for that moment when St. Benedict will come to get me, and lead me along the way richly covered and aglow with countless lights.

I encourage all of us to make this prayer part of our daily prayers, so that we may be reminded every day that the goal is to be surrounded in beauty for all eternity. And as always, constantly wear an exorcised and blessed medal of St. Benedict. I get mine HERE. Tell the nuns I sent you.