Saturday, March 03, 2007

St. Benedict on Lent, Part 3

"We therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent the brethren keep their lives most pure and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the negligences of other times."
(RB 49: 2-RB1980 translation)

Purity of heart is the proximate goal of the monk, according to St. John Cassian. We get a glimpse from St. Benedict of the purification that goes on in the life of the monk and during Lent in the above passage. I wrote a few days ago about Kierkegaard's formula that 'Purity of heart is to will one thing'. This expression of purity focuses on the will, and this is helpful. However, we are so often unaware of the obstacles to our willing what we ought. We are also weak of will and the flesh often opposes our good efforts.

"The negligences of other times" continue to exercise a power over us, even when we have repented and willed to act otherwise. This is a good thing to remember at times of temptation. We might think that we are able to dabble in this or that sin 'without hurting anybody'. But in truth, dabbling leaves its mark and makes it more difficult to act uprightly at a later time. The habituial white lie makes a life of full transparency inconvenient and even hazy: we can't even quite see our way to the fullness of truth because of this past negligence.

I had a basketball coach who once likened the body to a tape recorder: it might be fun to practice all kinds of fancy moves and goofy looking shots, but our bodies don't forget the actions required of the muscles to showboat. When it comes time to shoot a free throw, we have to unlearn all the motions that we preferred to use to do fancy reverses, fade-aways and spin shots. We have to wash away the negligences of other times. Practicing free throws is dull but the team is counting on me to be able to make them when the game is on the line. The fancy trick shot won't do me any good at that moment.

The spiritual life is an almost direct analogy. We don't often set out to sin or lead updisciplined lives: we are simply unaware of the consequences of small waverings: they are 'just having fun', products of unculpable ignorance or simply convenient. These are indeed unavoidable, and we shouldn't be hard on ourselves for not being omniscient and omnipotent. However, we should also recognize that we are engaged in a spiritual battle and mercy toward ourselves should not be confused with excusing ourselves for negligence. With the help of God's grace, we can actually wipe away the stain of even venial sin and become purified through and through, transparent to the light of the Divine Life, radiant with the joy of the Resurrected Christ. With that offered us, perhaps this Lent we can find the desire to work with grace at this purification.

1 comment:

Polyglot said...

Lent is my favorite time of the year. It meets us at the crossroad of winter and points to the nearing of spring. It is a time for trimming the rose bushes, turning up the garden soil, cutting dead wood off old apple trees, scraping the moss off the garden wall turned green. "The life of a monastic", says Saint Benedict, "ought to be a continuous Lent". A life of being rooted in the land, of attention paid to the dry wood, the sludge and the weeds in our lives, a life committed to forever be cutting, trimming, planting, "washing away the negligences of other times." The good news is : such practice is at the reach of everyone of us. Starting small and with perseverence, and "under God's protection", Saint Benedict promises us, we "will reach . . . loftier summits". We may well become master gardeners.


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may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and
throw me away.

Origen of Alexandria
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