Follow St. Theodore's example to escape poverty and selfishness, Pope advises

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI


In Wednesday's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI continued with his series of teachings on the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church by turning his attention today to St. Theodore the Studite, a Byzantine monk from the eighth century. Pope Benedict urged modern day Christians to follow the saint's example to combat poverty and to avoid spiritual self-centeredness.

Pope Benedict XVI began his weekly catechesis by telling the more than 15,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square about the early life of the great reformer of monastic life.

St. Theodore, the Pope recounted, was born in 759 to a noble and pious family and entered the monastery at the age of twenty-two.  But his life was far from a quiet one.

He vigorously opposed the iconoclastic movement and as a result, was put on trial and imprisoned. He died on November 11, 826 and is a saint both for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

Theodore, the Holy Father said, “characteristically insisted on the necessity of order and the monks submission to it.” "One of Theodore's basic convictions was that monks, more than others, have a commitment to observe Christian duties with greater rigor and intensity in order to offer a sign, an indication, to all Christians.”

Theodore also spoke of poverty, which is “from its outset a renunciation of all personal property, to learn how to live free from material things, in sobriety.”

The saint's teaching on poverty can be a lesson for the modern world, explained Benedict XVI. “We must not depend on property, we must learn to do without, we must learn simplicity, austerity, sobriety. Only in this way can we create a society of solidarity that is capable of overcoming the grave problem of global poverty,” the Pontiff said.

For Theodore, the Holy Father underscored, the main renunciation is in fact obedience, which he called the “martyrdom of submission.”

“Monks are an example to us all of how much we too are in need of this,” the Pontiff continued. “Many different currents are urging us towards a dangerous individualism and spiritual haughtiness.”

“Society cannot function if everyone only thinks of themselves,” Pope Benedict added. “Legality, in other words, submission and obedience to the rules of the common life and the common good, is the only thing that can heal a society, and ego itself, from the pride of being at the center of the world."

"For Theodore the Studite, one important virtue, equal to the virtues of obedience and humility, was 'philergia', that is, love for work,” Benedict XVI said. Theodore defined humility as “the criteria to test personal devotion” and “did not, then, allow monks, under the pretext of prayer or contemplation, to dispense themselves from work, which is in fact the means to discover God.”

“People who are fervent in work are also fervent in their spiritual obligations.” “A consequence merits mention: the wealth accumulated by community work was not destined for the monks but for the poor,” the Pope expounded.  “We all must learn from this.”

The Holy Father concluded by warning of the "numerous perils that today threaten the unity of the shared faith and push us towards a dangerous kind of spiritual individualism.” He added,” It is necessary to work to defend and develop the perfect unity of the Body of Christ, a unity in which the peace of order and sincere personal relationships in the Spirit can come together harmoniously."

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