Friday, March 02, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 2

Although the life of a monk ought to have about it at all times the character of a Lenten observance, yet since few have the virtue for that...
Chapter 49: 1-2a (RB1980 translation)

St. Gregory the Great, in his "Life and Miracles of St. Benedict," praises the saint for his discretion and moderation. Here, his moderation is on display for us. So often in the Rule, St. Benedict lays down an absolute rule ("We ban grumbling with a perpetual ban!") and then gives the humane exceptions (the abbot must make sure there are no justifiable grounds for grumbling). Here, hearkening back to the Desert Fathers and Mothers, we see that Benedict expects monks to be about fasting and praying at all times. Experience shows that most people can't do this. Does this mean that only a few are called to monastic life?

There are always some who would answer 'yes' to that last question. Superhuman feats of fasting and vigils are impressive and, when yoked to charity, produce genuine saints. However, all of these are graces and of them charity is the most important. There are numerous cautionary tales in the Apophthegmata and in Cassian of monks who were champions of fasting and ceaseless prayer and became proud to their downfall and the scandal of others. On the other hand, there were abbas known to break their fast and eat five times a day if they had five separate visitors.

In these days of suffering for the Church, there are many who believe that the answer to our malaise is better discipline. From my previous post on St. Benedict and Lent, I hope one sees that I favor discipline and practice. However, I do so only in the service of love. We often hear things like, "if we went back to Friday abstinence year long..." or "if we went back to the old rite...[etc] everything would be better in the Church." This may be true if we change out of love and not out of fear. On the other hand, sharing meat with our 'enemies' in the Church, celebrating the new liturgy with love, care and reverence would mean much more than a forced observance of a 'tougher' discipline. To be sure, we often also hear things such as "if we go back to Latin, all will be lost!" and this is simply another form of discernment from fear and not from love (it also lacks trust in the Holy Spirit's guidance of the Church, since liturgical documents clearly promote the use of Latin).

"That the strong have something to strive for and the weak are not discouraged;" this Benedictine axiom should govern all of us in the Church. We should rejoice in the strength of the strong and bear the burdens of the weak, and all bless God together. May this Lent see in us an increase in our daily offering to God and an increase in charity.

True love casts out fear.

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If I, who seem to be your right hand and am called Presbyter and seem to
preach the Word of God, If I do something against the discipline of the Church
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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