Friday, February 15, 2008

Praying in the Cave...

Our pilgrimage yesterday took us to both Subiaco and Monte Cassino. I'm going to give each place it's own day in the blog. They are both so special and important in the life of Saint Benedict. The second blog will appear on Sunday as Sister Veronica and I will go into the city tomorrow. The Lateran and the Vatican environs are the plan, but we're both into feeing free and wandering without a schedule or a "to do" list. We'll be home two weeks from today. (YIPPEE!) Two Saturday's left for sight-seeing or wandering about.
Subiaco...the name means "under the lake." It is a breathtaking valley high in the mountains east of Rome. We left the Casa at 6 AM and arrived at Subiaco at around 8:30. The drive itself is a small wonder given the size of a tour bus and the narrow, winding roads up...up...up.
The monastery itself is built into the side of a mountain. It marks the spot where Benedict came as a young man in search of solitude and silence - in search of GOD. He did what many did in those days. After meeting a wise old monk who gave him the habit, Benedict found a little cave in the side of the mountain and became a hermit. Tradition tells us that he spent three years in this cave welcoming pilgrims, teaching the local shepherds and honing the skills of the spiritual life - most especially, attentive listening to the Word of GOD.
Subiaco is significantly colder than the city of Rome. We were freezing cold when we got off the bus and pretty much stayed cold until we left. I kept wondering how Saint Benedict could make in through three Roman winters...lots of sheepskin, I think! Our rather large group of pilgrims celebrated the Eucharist together in a small chapel below ground - directly across for the holy cave. It was a powerful liturgy. It was as if all our communities and loved ones where gathered with us in that single ray of light Benedict describes as the love of GOD. Very moving... Then, we took turns going inside the cave where a life-size statue of young Saint Benedict sits in the curve of the rock. Many sat in silence, others on their knees. Still others went forward and kissed the feet of the Man of GOD. It didn't feel right to take pictures inside the cave. I am still struggling for words to describe the energy in that space - a holy of holies for daughters and sons of Benedict.
After the cave, we had about two hours to gaze on the frescos that cover the interior of the Sacro Speco. I have never in my life seen such beauty! It is miraculous how the art literally covers every inch of wall and ceiling - like the Sistine. Along with scenes from the life of Benedict, there are numerous frescos on the life of Christ and the Blessed Mother. Too beautiful for words... (Look left for a personal favorite.)
As our time at Subiaco came to an end, the sun was just warming the mountainside. I had the thought that this is a place I could return to time and time again, and never tire of it or cease to find new aspects of its haunting beauty. I thought about all those caves in the mountains there and all the hermits who inhabited them. Most of all, I thought about our Holy Father, Benedict who was so young when he first heard the voice of GOD beckoning...whispering love. Fifteen-hundred years later, his daughters and sons are still listening...with the ear of the heart...for the voice of the LORD (RB Prol.1). And, as Benedict suggests in the The Rule, there can be nothing sweeter (RB Prol.19).