One of the great aims of modern journalism is the celebrity interview. So Downside Abbey is to be congratulated on a scoop in arranging for St Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order, to be quizzed by a boy at their school. No explanation is given about how this might have been achieved, since the saint died 1,500 years ago.

But this does not bother the interviewer, Peter, who is polite, faintly patronising and assuredly ignorant. He begins by saying that he has occasionally seen the saint around the school but never realised that he was more than just a statue or icon, and could speak. Inviting him to say something, the saint replies: “Benedic.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

“It means ‘Speak good things,’” says the saint. “In my Rule I advise the old monk at the monastery door to say it to any visitors.”

Peter briskly turns to the school’s statement of purpose in the front of its handbooks: “We are led by the Gospel and guided by the Rule of St Benedict.” But many do not know much about the Rule – “written in the 6th century, I believe”. It also seems complicated and strange, so that most pupils have not had time to read it.

The saint replies that it is just a little guide for beginners, then adds, pointedly, that Peter seems a young man in quite a hurry; and that some of the things that go on in the 21st century look rather complicated and strange to him. After describing the monastery as a school in the Lord’s service he pauses for a prayer before asking Peter whether he fears his life might turn out to be meaningless and desperate. If he is prepared for some strictness and the correction of his faults, the school could be the right place for him.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection