The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1. Thess. 1:5). In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. (RB. 1980: The Rule of Saint Benedict in Latin and English, Chapter 49, p.253).
The only season that St. Benedict writes a whole chapter about in The Rule is Lent.
Benedict tells us that Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be. We applaud the concept in most things. We know, for instance, that even people who were married years ago have to keep working at that marriage consciously and intently every year thereafter, or the marriage will fail no matter how established it seems. We know that people who own businesses take inventories and evaluations every year or the business fails. We too often fail to realize, however, that people who say they want to find God in life have to work every day too to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory. (The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, p.220).
On this Ash Wednesday, we are invited by Jesus to begin to take a new look at our spiritual and personal lives. It is time to “take inventory” of what we have been doing vs. what we have been putting off far too long. During these forty days of fasting and abstinence we are encouraged to grow into our relationship with God, others and ourselves. Through living a contemplative life during Lent, we are urged to meditate on how we are all inter-connected with nature, people, places and God.
St. Benedict is helping us see that when we give some things up for a while, we need to add on to the usual measure. He encourages us to do that, because when we give up something there is a void in our lives. St. Benedict and Jesus invite us to spend time in silence and prayer so that we may begin to see our true selves lost in those voids as “my soul is athirst for the living God” (Psalm 42:2).
What is Jesus calling you to take inventory of in your life this Lent?
Brother Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB