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St. Odo was born in about 880, on the boundary between the Maine and the Touraine regions of France. His father consecrated him to the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent shadow and memory he was to spend his entire life, which he ended close to St Martin’s tomb.
Odo was still an adolescent, about 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he felt this prayer to the Virgin rise spontaneously to his lips: “My Lady, Mother of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May your glorious and unique experience of childbirth, O Most Devout Mother, be my refuge.”
The name “Mother of Mercy,” with which young Odo then invoked the Virgin, was to be the title by which he always subsequently liked to address Mary. He also called her “the one Hope of the world … thanks to whom the gates of Heaven were opened to us.”
Fascinated by the Benedictine ideal, Odo left Tours and entered the Benedictine Abbey of Baume as a monk; he later moved to Cluny, of which in 927 he became abbot. From that center of spiritual life, he was able to exercise a vast influence over the monasteries on the continent.
Various monasteries or coenobiums were able to benefit from his guidance and reform, including that of St Paul Outside-the-Walls. More than once Odo visited Rome and he even went as far as Subiaco, Monte Cassino and Salerno.
Abbot Odo’s great aspirations were: concord between kings and princes, the observance of the commandments, attention to the poor, the correction of youth and respect for the elderly.
He loved the cell in which he dwelled, “removed from the eyes of all, eager to please God alone.” He did not fail also to exercise, as a “superabundant source,” the ministry of the word and to set an example, “regretting the immense wretchedness of this world.”
In a passage from a sermon in honor of Mary of Magdala, the Abbot of Cluny reveals to us how he conceived of monastic life: “Mary, who, seated at the Lord’s feet, listened attentively to his words, is the symbol of the sweetness of contemplative life; the more its savor is tasted, the more it induces the mind to be detached from visible things and the tumult of the world’s preoccupations.”
St. Odo was a true spiritual guide both for the monks and for the faithful of his time. In the face of the “immensity of the vices widespread in society, the remedy he strongly advised was that of a radical change of life, based on humility, austerity, detachment from ephemeral things and adherence to those that are eternal.
His biographer records that he was in the habit of asking the children he met along the way to sing, and that he would then give them some small token, and he adds: “Abbot Odo’s words were full of joy … his merriment instilled in our hearts deep joy.” In this way the energetic yet at the same time lovable medieval abbot, enthusiastic about reform, with incisive action nourished in his monks, as well as in the lay faithful of his time, the resolution to progress swiftly on the path of Christian perfection.
He fell ill in Rome in the summer of 942. Feeling that he was nearing his end, he was determined, and made every effort, to return to St Martin in Tours, where he died, on the octave of the Saint’s feast on Nov. 18, 942.