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Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly catechesis.
BY The Editors
Weekly General Audience September
During his general audience on Sept. 2, Pope Benedict XVI
resumed his catechesis on the great writers of the medieval Church in the East
and in the West. He focused on St. Odo, who was born around the year 880 and
was the second abbot of the abbey at Cluny.
beginning of the ninth century, Cluny was a center for an influential movement
of Church reform, and Odo, through his example and teaching, did much to
further this spiritual renewal throughout Europe. He was influenced by the
monastic virtues of contemplation, detachment from this world, and a longing
for the world to come.
particularly devoted to the Eucharist, emphasizing the real and substantial
presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine. He was truly a
spiritual guide for his troubled times, blending personal austerity with a
constant and joyful contemplation of Christ’s infinite mercy.
brothers and sisters,
a long pause, I would like to resume my presentation on the great writers of
the medieval Church in the East and in the West, since their lives and their
writings are like a mirror in which we can see what it means to be a Christian.
I would like to speak about another beacon from that era, St. Odo, the abbot of
Cluny. He was part of a monastic movement in the Middle Ages that was
responsible for the amazing diffusion throughout Europe of a lifestyle and a
spirituality that was inspired by the Rule of St. Benedict.
those centuries, cloisters were emerging and multiplying in an extraordinary
way, with branches throughout the continent that widely spread a Christian
spirit and sensibility.
Odo, in particular, brings us back to the monastery at Cluny, which, in the
Middle Ages, was among the most illustrious and famous of these monasteries and
whose magnificent ruins reveal even today signs of a glorious past that was
intensely dedicated to asceticism, to study, and, in a special way, to a
worship of God that was distinguished by its decorum and beauty.
was the second abbot of Cluny. He was born around 880 in the area between the
Maine and Touraine Rivers in France. His father dedicated him to St. Martin,
the bishop of Tours, and Odo spent his entire life in the beneficent shadow and
memory of this man and died near the saint’s tomb.
to his decision to consecrate himself to the religious life, he experienced a
special moment of grace, which he himself described to another monk, John the
Italian, who later became his biographer.
was still an adolescent — about 16 years old — when a prayer to the Virgin Mary
came spontaneously to his lips on Christmas Eve: “My Lady, Mother of mercy, who
on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May your glorious and
singular act of giving birth, O most pious one, be my refuge” (Vita sancti Odonis, I,9: PL 133,747).
title of “Mother of Mercy,” with which the young Odo invoked the Virgin at that
moment, would turn out to be the title with which he would always address Mary,
whom he also called “the only hope in the world ... thanks to whom the gates of
paradise were opened” (In
veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae:
that time, he came across the Rule of St. Benedict and began to observe parts
of it, “bearing, though still not a monk, the light yoke of monks” (ibid, I,
14: PL 133, 50).
one of his homilies, Odo praised Benedict as “a lantern that shines in the dark
state of this life” (De sancto
Benedicto abbate: PL 133,725) and
described him as a “master of spiritual discipline” (ibid: PL 133,727).
deep affection, he pointed out that Christian piety “honors him with the most
sincere tenderness” in the awareness that God has elevated him “among the
supreme chosen Fathers of the Church” (ibid: PL 133,722).
by the Benedictine ideal, Odo left Tours and entered the Benedictine abbey at
Baume as a monk, later going on to Cluny, of which he would become abbot in
927. From that center of spiritual life, he was able to exercise a vast
influence on the monasteries of the continent.
guidance and reforms benefited various monasteries throughout Italy as well,
among them the Benedictine abbey of St. Paul Outside the Walls.
visited Rome more than once and traveled as far as Subiaco, Montecassino and
Salerno. In fact, he was in Rome in the summer of 942 when he fell ill.
that the end was near, he was intent on returning in order to be near the tomb
of St. Martin in Tours, where he died during the octave of the saint on Nov.
biographer, while highlighting Odo’s “virtue of patience,” offers a long list
of his other virtues, such as detachment from the world, zeal for souls and a
commitment for peace among the local churches. Odo also greatly aspired for a
harmonious relationship among the king and his princes, the observance of the
commandments, a concern for the poor, as well as the education of the young and
a respect for the elderly (see Vita sancti
Odonis, I,17: PL 133,49).
loved the small cell where he lived, “away from the eyes of everyone, concerned
only with pleasing God” (ibid, I, 14: PL 133, 49). Nonetheless, he never failed
to exercise his ministry by word and example as a “superabundant spring,” while
“lamenting the world as immense misery” (ibid, I, 17: PL 133, 51).
one single monk, his biographer observes, the various virtues that were spread
throughout all the other monasteries were found together: “Jesus in his
goodness, drawing from the many gardens of monks, created a paradise in one
small place in order to irrigate from its spring the hearts of the faithful”
(ibid., I,14: PL 133,49).
a passage from a sermon in honor of Mary Magdalene, St. Odo of Cluny tells us
how he envisioned monastic life: “Mary, seated at the feet of the Lord and
listening attentively to his words is the symbol of the sweetness of
contemplative life, whose flavor, the more it is tasted, more and more leads
the soul to detach itself from all things visible as well as the tumult of
worldly concerns” (In ven. S.
Mariae Magd., PL 133,717).
is a concept that Odo confirms and develops in his other writings, which show
his love for the interior life, his vision of the world as a fragile and
precarious reality from which a person has to uproot himself, a constant
tendency to detach himself from things he found to be sources of worry, an
acute sensitivity to the presence of evil in the various categories of men, and
an intimate aspiration towards the eschatological.
vision of the world may seem rather remote from our vision of the world, but
considering the fragility of the world, Odo’s concept is a concept that values
an interior life that is open to others and to love of neighbor, thus
transforming a person’s life and opening the world to the light of God.
aspect that merits particular attention is the devotion to the body and blood
of Christ that Odo, in the face of a widespread negligence that he vigorously
deplored, cultivated with conviction.
he was firmly convinced of the real presence of the Lord under the species of
the Eucharist by virtue of the “substantial” conversion of the bread and wine.
“God, the Creator of everything, took bread, saying it was his body that he
offered for the world, and distributed wine, calling it his blood,” he wrote.
“Yet,” he adds, “it is a law of nature that change occurs at the command of the
Creator,” and that is why “nature immediately changes its usual condition:
without delay the bread becomes flesh and the wine becomes blood.” At the
Lord’s command, “substance is transformed” (Odonis Abb. Cluniac. occupatio, ed. A. Swoboda, Leipzig 1900, p.121).
he notes, this “sacrosanct mystery of the body of the Lord, which constitutes
the entire salvation of the world” (Collationes, XXVIII: PL 133,572) is often celebrated with
he warned, “who come to the altar unworthily, soil the bread, that is, the body
of Christ” (ibid, PL 133,572-573). Only those who are spiritually united to
Christ can worthily receive his body in the Eucharist; in any other case,
eating his flesh and drinking his blood would not be beneficial, but a source
of condemnation” (see ibid., XXX, PL 133,575).
this invites us to believe with a new force and depth in the truth of the
Lord’s presence. The presence of the Creator among us, who delivers himself
into our hands and transforms us as he transforms the bread and wine,
transforms the world in the same way.
Odo was truly a spiritual guide both for monks and for the faithful of his
time. Faced with the “immensity of vices widespread throughout society, the
remedy he clearly proposed was that of a radical change of lifestyle based on
humility, austerity, detachment from the ephemeral and adherence to the
eternal” (see Collationes, XXX, PL 133, 613).
the reality of his diagnosis of the situation of his time, Odo did not indulge
in pessimism: “We do not say this,” he made clear, “in order to cast into
despair those who wish to convert. God’s mercy is always available; it simply
awaits the hour of our conversion” (ibid: PL 133, 563).
the ineffable depths of divine mercy!” he exclaimed. “God pursues sin yet he
protects sinners” (ibid: PL 133,592).
by this conviction, Odo of Cluny loved to contemplate the mercy of Christ the
Savior, whom he described in a very thought-provoking way as a “lover of men” —
amator hominum Christus (ibid., LIII: PL 133,637).
took upon himself the scourges that were meant for us, he observed, in order to
save his creatures who are his work and whom he loves (see ibid: PL 133, 638).
we see a trait of this holy abbot that is almost hidden at first glance under
the rigor of his austerity as a reformer: the profound goodness of his soul.
was austere but, above all, he was good, a man of great goodness, a goodness
that came from contact with God’s goodness. Odo, according to his
contemporaries, radiated around him the joy with which he himself was filled.
biographer attests that he had never heard from the mouth of any man “such
tenderness of words” (ibid, I, 17: PL 133, 31). His biographer recalls how he
would invite the boys he met along the way to sing with him and then gave them
little gifts. “His words were full of exultation,” he adds. “... his
lightheartedness infused intimate joy into our hearts” (ibid, II, 5: PL 133,
this vigorous yet lovable medieval abbot, who was an impassioned reformer,
nourished in his monks and in the lay faithful of his time through his resolute
activities a desire to proceed rapidly along the path to Christian perfection.
us hope that his goodness and the joy derived from faith and joined to
austerity and opposition to the world’s vices, may touch our own hearts and
that we, too, may discover the source of joy that flows from God’s goodness.