Dom Guéranger is said to have allowed his postulants and novices no other material for lectio divina than the texts of the Sacred Liturgy. With good reason: for who needs passing ‘paperback spirituality’ when the Church herself has given us so much from which to draw? Indeed, who can rightly evaluate modern spiritualities and their proponents without first having drunk deeply from the source of the Church’s very life and mission? (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10).
This evening I wish to consider briefly the Magnificat antiphon we shall sing at II Vespers of this coming Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent:
“Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis. In his ergo diebus exhibeamus nos sicut Dei ministros, in multa patientia, in vigiliis, in ieiuniis et in caritate non ficta.”
“Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation! Let us conduct ourselves in all circumstances as God’s ministers, in much patience, in vigils, in fasts, in unfeigned love.”
There is enough in this Magnificat antiphon alone to sustain our thought, prayer and contemplation for many hours and days of Lent, and beyond.
Now is indeed the acceptable time. This is indeed the day of salvation. What we do today, large or small, is that upon which we shall be judged. The state of our heart and soul today are what God sees: it is they that determine our salvation—not what we might plan to do in the future. Now is the time to address our attachment to sin, to work with the spiritual weapons at our disposal, most particularly our Lenten practices, on rooting out vice and on growing in virtue.
The Church’s antiphon directs our efforts with the following exhortation: “Let us conduct ourselves in all circumstances as God’s ministers, in much patience, in vigils, in fasts, in unfeigned love.”
Patience. Vigils. Fasts. Unfeigned love. There is enough here for each of us to be getting on with, without doubt. A brief word about the latter, however: Unfeigned love: cartitate non ficta—true love.
Our world is replete with false love, from the pursuit and worship of lust in its manifold forms, the false compassion propagated by the proponents the culture of death, the reduction of the human person to a mere economic unit and worse still, the growing exploitation of persons in human trafficking and slavery to name but some examples.
Amidst this seemingly overwhelming darkness our vocation is to be beacons of caritate non ficta. In the first place this requires us to receive love: the real love of God and of our brethren. And to that end we must continually seek purify ourselves and our motives, particularly in Lent. Our Lord wishes to do this for each of us in the Sacrament of Penance. He accepts our humble confession of our sins and re-creates us in His abiding love. Our Lenten penances and practices will serve to ensure that this seed of God’s love finds us to be good soil in which to grow and to bear abundant fruit. (cf. Mt 13:1-23)
I believe that caritate non ficta is alive in our monastery and is experienced amongst us. That is a wonderful grace. But it is a grace of which we must continually strive to be worthy through the examination of our consciences, through a willingness continually to be of service to each other and through a vigilant—but not neurotic—sensitivity to the needs of our brethren, particularly to new brothers whom Almighty God entrusts to our care and to guests who come seeking something of God with which to sustain them in their vocations in the world.
May this Lent afford us the opportunity further to build up the Kingdom of Love in our hearts and souls, in our monastery, and in our world which so desperately needs, and which rightly requires of us, our faithful, daily witness to caritate non ficta. +