His perspicacity should console us: the Rule of Saint Benedict was written for the likes of we who aspire to much but so often find ourselves without the strength, perhaps even without the will, to do what is necessary to reach the goals to which we aspire.
So too Saint Benedict’s realism should console us. For he goes on to instruct we less than perfect monks that at least “in these days of Lent [we] should live lives of great purity, and should also in this sacred season expiate the negligences of other times.”
This, then, is our task in the coming forty days; a task to be accomplished by refraining from all sin, in prayer with tears, in reading, compunction of heart and abstinence.
This Lent I would like to underline the importance of the reading in which we are to engage. Certainly, as chapter 48 of the Rule commands, we are each to receive a ‘Lent book’ from the library as food for our lectio divina in these holy days. It is a book to be more digested than read—and that during those precious, beautiful and fruitful hours of silence following matins.
It may come as no great surprise that our Lent books are chosen for their close relation to the liturgy of this holy season. But beyond the books given I wish to ask that this Lent we ‘read’ the book of the Sacred Liturgy as well. That is to say, let us make a renewed effort to listen with the ears of our hearts as well as of our minds to the daily Gospel, to the commentary on it by the Fathers of the Church at matins, to the proper readings, antiphons, hymns and other liturgical texts that shall be on our lips seven times a day and once in the night. If we read thus this Lent, if we allow the realities with which the Sacred Liturgy of this blessed season is so heavily pregnant to penetrate our hearts and minds, we shall be well fuelled and instructed for that conversion of life to which these days call us with Evangelical urgency.
Let us not make the mistake, though, of thinking that Lent is solely about “me,” even though it does demand a good deal of frank self assessment. Yes, our first duty is to do all that we can for the salvation our own soul. If we do not attend to that first we are heading for a dead-end.
But we seek our own conversion and purification so as to live our God-given vocation and mission in the life of the Church, for in persevering in generous fidelity to that call lies the unique pathway to our salvation.
For the monk this vocation is one of prayer above and before all else. How much better can and should our prayer be! How much more efficaciously can we serve those in the world and those who carry its burdens if, when we come to choir, our hearts and minds are the purer with which to plead their needs!
Work is the second pillar of our Benedictine life and it too can and must profit from the cleansing and concentration to which Lent calls us. For whether our work involves the small details of life in the enclosure or necessarily engages us without, Almighty God looks even—especially—here for our purity of heart and mind. Let him find it all the more in us in these days.
This is our vocation. This is the witness we are called to give.
Our small community does not rank amongst the great Benedictine houses of today, nor of yesterday. Let us ensure nevertheless that increasingly the Lord shall find here, particularly during this Lent, that greatness which is measured in fidelity to our vocation in matters both large and small. +