The month of November focuses on the completion of time, what we’ve traditionally called the Last Four Things: death, judgment, hell and heaven. The Liturgy captures this in the celebration of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls at the very beginning of the month. The Commemoration of All Souls does not go back to the Rule of Saint Benedict but St. Gregory the Great, a generation after Benedict devotes a whole book from his Dialogues to the St. Benedicts life and edifying death. Many of the other Books in the Dialogues consider deaths of pious Christians of his own day and their after death revelations of the world to come. A few centuries after St. Benedict’s death, it was Benedictine monasticism in the Carolingian Empire that gave us the Commemoration of All Souls awaiting their entry into heaven.
At the end of November we have the Solemnity of Christ, the King of the Universe and the beginning of the Advent Season and the new Liturgical Year. The phrase, It’s beginning is in its end could well describe the nature of Advent, first celebrating the Second coming of Christ, following upon the theme of the end of the Liturgical Year, while returning us to the First Coming of Christ, renewing the cycle of celebrations.
This week we celebrate individually what we celebrated collectively on All Saints Day, 1 November. On Tuesday we recall St. Leo the Great who led the Church in perilous times through the Fifth Century and confirmed the faith of his brethren in both the East and the West. In 451 the cry of the Fathers at the Council of Chalcedon was, “Leo has spoken, Peter has spoken.” That refers to the celebrated Tome of Leo which gave the Council Fathers a vocabulary for describing the unity of the divinity and humanity of Jesus. On another level, it was the ageing Leo who rode road out to meet Attila the Hun, bent on sacking Rome. No one knows what Leo said but he dissuaded the fierce attacker from entering or harassing the city.
St. Martin of Tours, who is celebrated on Wednesday, was a monk of the Fourth Century, embracing the Gospel in his personal life when God called him from the Imperial Army to minister the Good News to others. As would occur centuries later in the Twelfth Century to Cistercian Abbots, Martin was called by the Church to be Bishop because of the integrity of his life. Despite his duties, he always remained and lived as a monk, encouraging the monastic life in what is now the south of France.
On Thursday we commemorate St. Theodore the Studite, a monastic feast usually not celebrated in the universal Church. His special meaning for monks and nuns is his renewal of monastic life in the Imperial city of Constantinople in the Ninth Century. At a critical time in history of the Church in the East, Theodore revitalized monastic discipline, buttressing it with real intellectual formation. Theodore also suffered for the faith, enduring exile three times and cruel treatment. His defense of icons during the iconoclast controversy was a defense of the incarnation of the Second person of the Trinity through whom all of creation has been taken up into the divine life.
On Friday we celebrate another peculiarly monastic feast, All Saints of the Benedictine Family–Benedict himself, and the various Benedictine reforms including the Camaldolese and Cistercians. All these feasts speak not only of what has been done in the past but of the Kingdom to come. All that these holy men and women lived was to expand the boundaries of God’s Kingdom and living the life of the Gospel so that the glory to come could shine out now.
from a Chapter Talk by Fr. Robert