Monday, February 26, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent

For this year's holy season, I thought it would be worth our while to do a close reading of St. Benedict's chapter on Lent as well as other places in the Rule where he touches upon it.

Chapter 49: On the Observance of Lent
(my translation)
v.1 At all times, the life of a monk should have the quality of Lent.

This line is quite a challenge to the monk and by extension to the Church. What is it about Lent that it should be the default mode of the monk? What is it about a monk? The end goal of the monk, according to Cassian, is the Kingdom of God, and the proximate goal is purity of heart. Kierkegaard's "Purity of heart is to will one thing," is a snazzy and memorable formula, and perhaps for that reason tends to be easily filed away and not reckoned with. Thomas Merton saw purity of heart as not only a function of will, that is of a type of action, but as a state of the heart. A pure heart not only desires God alone, but does so because it has been cleansed of wayward passions that cloud our purpose. These passions, the monastic tradition teaches, come from ourselves and from demonic suggestion. We are susceptible to both; that is to say, we tend to find little excuses to pamper our bodies beyond their need, and to acquiesce to harmful thoughts because they are convenient for our psyche.

Lent is a season for, and monasticism a life commitment to, the Church's program of ascesis. We might better translate this, depending on our own biases, as 'discipline' or even 'practice'. Learning an instrument takes discipline and practice. So does shooting a basketball or sewing a dress. The spiritual life, as taught by the Holy Abbas and Ammas, also requires discipline and practice. Fasting, keeping vigil, giving alms, and praying constantly are the archetypal practices and disciplines in Lent and in the life of a monk. These practices confront our wayward passions, such as the desire to eat more than we need, to sleep more than we need, to keep more things than we need and to spend more time on things other than God than are necessary. Deliberately acting contrary to our wayward passions loosens their hold on us, brings peace and so purity of heart.


Polyglot said...

Benedictines make vows of stability, obedience and conversion of heart. To live out these vows involves discipline, practice. It is a program for a lifetime, and thus it gives such a life "the quality of Lent". This is how I "read" Benedict's 1st verse. In this context, it encourages me a great deal that Benedict intended his "little rule" to be "for beginners" and promised us that: "under God's protection . . . you will get there".
Have a blessed Lenten journey!

ThomasLB said...

I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy reading what you you write, and intend to visit here often.



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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
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and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, The Church, then
may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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