St Petronax of Monte Cassino

(central Italy) (entered heaven around 747)

Dear Pete,

Discouragement, my disheartened young nephew, never comes from God.  It’s always a product of our own overblown self-image.  The humble person never gives in to discouragement, because he accepts his limits, gets back in the saddle, and trusts that God will eventually make his efforts fruitful.  The closing of your Coalition of Catholic Students after only 9 months of existence, therefore, should not cause you to pack up your apostolic bags.  Rather, you should see in it an opportunity to show your love for Christ by finding another way to build his Kingdom on campus.  I think you may want to make today’s saint the patron of that effort – he faced a similar situation.

In the sixth century, as you remember, St Benedict founded the great monastery of Monte Cassino, just south of Rome.  There began monasticism in Western Europe, a monasticism that saved and advanced Civilization for centuries, and is still pumping out saints today.  But the history of that famous monastery has tough chapters as well as glorious ones.

About a generation after Monte Cassino had been founded, the Lombards invaded Italy, and ransacked Rome and the surrounding areas – including the hill-top monastery founded by St Benedict.  The chaos caused by the invasions lasted for a century.  By the early 700s, Monte Cassino was a pile of ruins inhabited by a few hermits.  At that point Pope Gregory II undertook the noble task of rebuilding the monastery.  He recognized its spiritual, practical, and symbolic importance in those troubled times.  To spearhead the daunting task, the Pontiff chose Petronax, a holy abbot from Brescia, a city in the very Lombardy that had spawned the ransackers.

It wasn’t easy going for the holy Abbott.  He had to raise money for reconstructing the buildings; he had to oversee the reconstruction; he had to repopulate the monastery; he had to reestablish the tradition of monastic discipline; he had to teach the monks to pray… In one sense, it was probably more difficult than actually starting from scratch, because inauthentic traditions had crept in since the invasions, and these had to be dismantled before the authentic ones could be reinstituted.

But in the end, with the support of the Pope and of some powerful, devoted noblemen, Petronax was able to get Monte Cassino back on its feet.  And for the last 1300 years, it has continued to shine like a spiritual lighthouse in the midst of the many storms of history that Europe has had to weather.

So don’t get discouraged, just get back to work, somehow (being humble and respectful, and obedient).  God will take care of the rest.

Your loving uncle,


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