The most important source for the life of the saint, the Pope explained, is the second book of “Dialogues” written by St. Gregory the Great, in which Benedict features as the “shining star” who shows the way out of the "dark night of history,” in other words, the crisis of values and institutions caused by the fall of the Roman empire.
St. Benedict's work and his Rule led to “a true spiritual ferment which over the course of the centuries - well beyond the confines of his homeland and his time - changed the face of Europe and created, with the collapse of political unity, a new spiritual and cultural unity, that of the Christian faith shared by the people of the continent.”
St. Benedict was born to a wealthy family around the year 480. He went to school in Rome but before completing his studies retired to a monastic community in Enfide. Subsequently he spent three years in a cave at Subiaco where he "underwent the three fundamental temptations that all human beings face: self-affirmation and the desire to place oneself at the centre, ... sensuality, ... and anger and revenge.” This, said the Holy Father, was because “St. Benedict was convinced that only by overcoming these temptations would he be able find the right words to give others in their situations of need.”
In the year 529 the founder of the Benedictine Order moved to Monte Cassino, “a height that dominates the surrounding plains and is visible from a distance". This was a symbolic decision on the saint’s part, said the Pope, because "monastic life has its raison d'etre in withdrawal and concealment, but a monastery also has a public role in the life of the Church and of society.”
Throughout his life St. Benedict “was immersed in an atmosphere of prayer, the main foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God, but Benedict’s spirituality was not an interior life divorced from reality. In the disquiet and confusion of his time, he lived under the gaze of God and with his own gaze fixed upon God, though without losing sight of his daily duties and the concrete needs of mankind.”
St. Benedict died in 547. His famous Rule “provides useful advice not only to monks but to everyone seeking guidance on their journey to God. For its precision, its humanity, and its sober discernment between what is essential and what is secondary in spiritual life, the Rule has maintained its illuminating power up to today.”
In 1964, Paul VI named Benedict as patron saint of Europe. “Having just emerged from a century profoundly marked by two world wars and following the collapse of the great ideologies, ... Europe today is searching for its own identity,” remarked Pope Benedict."
In order to create a new and lasting unity,” the Pope concluded, “political, economic and juridical measures are necessary, but it is also necessary to generate an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the continent’s Christian roots. Without this vital lifeblood, man remains exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking redemption alone, a utopia which in 20th century Europe ... caused a retrocession without precedent in human history.”