Pope Benedict XVI dedicated his catechesis for today's general audience to the figure of St. Peter Damian. The great eleventh century monk offers people the insight that they should not to be overly absorbed by daily activities and the problems of life, thus "forgetting that Jesus must be central to our lives," the Holy Father said.
Peter Damian, who was born in Ravenna in 1007, lost both his parents while still very young and was raised by his siblings. He received a superlative education in law and Greek and Latin culture. As a young man, the saintly Italian dedicated himself to teaching and authored a number of literary works.
Peter Damian felt the call to become a monk and in 1034 entered the recently founded monastery of Fonte Avellana. This monastery “was dedicated to the Holy Cross,” Benedict XVI explained, “and of all the Christian mysteries the Cross would be the one that most fascinated Peter Damian." “Peter Damian’s example,” the Pope added, “encourages us to always look to the Cross as God's supreme act of love towards man."
In Fonte Avellana, Peter Damian "wrote a Rule in which he placed great emphasis upon the 'rigor of the hermitage.'” Pope Benedict explained to the gathered faithful that, “For Peter Damian hermitic life is the apex of Christian life. It is 'the highest state of life' because the monk, free from the ties of the world and of his own self, receives 'the pledge of the Holy Spirit and his soul felicitously unites with the heavenly Bridegroom.'”
But Peter Damian's insight is still important for those of us who are not monks, the Holy Father said. The lay faithful should also know “how to make silence within, to hear the voice of God” as well as have an awareness that “learning the Word of God in prayer and meditation is the path of life."
Another aspect of the Italian saint's teaching that the faithful should learn from is his “profound theology of the Church as communion," Benedict said. According to Peter Damian's teaching, communion with Christ creates “a unity of love among Christians,” and at the same time, those who serve others participate in the universality of the Church.
"Yet nonetheless," the Holy Father added, "this ideal image as illustrated by Peter Damian did not correspond to the reality of his own time. Peter Damian was not afraid to denounce the state of corruption that existed in the monasteries and among the clergy, the result, above all, of the practice of the civil authorities conferring investiture to ecclesiastical office."
In 1057 Peter Damian left the monastery to accept the office of Cardinal of Ostia. "He renounced the beauty of the Hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions,” Benedict XVI recalled. While Peter Damian returned to monastic life after ten years, he continued to serve the Church with prayer and action. He died in 1072 on his return from a mission to re-establish peace with the archbishop of Ravenna.
Peter Damian, the Pope concluded, "was a monk par excellence, practicing forms of austerity which today we might find excessive. Yet in this way he made monastic life an eloquent witness of God's primacy and a call to everyone to progress towards sanctity, free from any kind of worldly compromise."
After his teaching on St. Peter Damian, the Pope encouraged the Italian agricultural organization "Coldiretti” to continue in its commitment to “social and spiritual service to the world of agriculture." Referring then to the theme of the congress - "Ethics and the economy today" - he expressed his hope that it "may be a stimulus for you to reaffirm ethical principles in the economy, so as to reanimate hope through solidarity."