March 31, July 31, November 30

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 negligence of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge 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 our own will “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, let each one deny themselves some food, drink, sleep, needless talk and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what they intend to do, since it ought to be done with the abbot’s prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the abbot will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with the abbot’s approval.     

What would life be like if it was a “continuous Lent”? Surely it would be a life dedicated to growing in honesty – with oneself, others, and God. In using the rule as a guide and walking the way of Jesus, growth in honesty is essential. The rule is about what the Gospels are about: growing in love, this Reign or Kingdom of God which is a life lived as compassion. If perfect (or full) love casts out all fear, it can also be said that this same full love exists only truthfully. True Love cannot lie.

The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the gospel. (Mark 1:15, RNJB). This call of Jesus, a call we focus on every Lent, is an urgent invitation to change the way we act and see, to entrust our lives to the good news of Divine Love within and among us. This means being honest about the ways we fall short in loving.

As humans though, we are well versed in self-deception. We can do it obviously, subtlety, and unconsciously. This way of operating is a way of survival. It is deeply rooted in our psychology, beginning in the development of self-consciousness. It is a way the ego uses to maintain its own agenda, an agenda of survival excluding other focus. No wonder then, that few have the strength for the honest life that Lent promotes.

Benedict, though, does not give up. He wants Lent to be a time when we at least begin to experience the ways in which we have fallen short and turned away from the true life of God and have focused our minds, our lives on other things, ‘safer’ things.     

Perhaps eating chocolate is a comforting thing, so comforting that we look forward to eating it in a way that is somehow out of proportion. Maybe it’s about takeaway food, or alcohol. Perhaps we are too long on Facebook at night and sleeping less. This then affects the way we are with people the next day. Maybe we talk a lot to avoid uncomfortable silences. Maybe under all the jokes there is a hidden desire to be loved.

Is there something in life that, when we think about going without it, can cause a reaction within us? Perhaps this reaction is a reaction from that part of our psychology that wants to avoid certain truths. Less chocolate might mean risking experiencing an inner wound. Less Facebook might mean we risk missing out on what our friends are posting and so experience the loneliness we were avoiding. Perhaps risking an uncomfortable silence may have us experiencing those thoughts and feelings that condemn us. To leave a joke unsaid may sting a lonely heart.   

Lent can be about going a little deeper and gently engaging the natural process of feelings being unblocked, of memories being released. It can be about the truth of how we have, to that point, lived our human journey. The divine life wants to love us into freedom, into truth, into love, into joy. Lent can help, even in the smallest of ways.

Lent may also be about meditating a little more. It could be about creating a period of daily silence. It may be about a conscious decision to observe those we love so we may see the little things we can do for them to express this love in ways ‘tailor-made’ for them.

And there is wisdom in the rule that ensures abstaining does not become too austere. The rule is not about extremes. It is not about spiritual competition. In letting someone wise such as the community leader know what we have planned, they can exercise their wisdom and discernment for us.

He came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom. He stood up to read, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favour.” He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (Luke 4:16-20, RNJB)