If the topic of mercy is still a challenge, Lent it is even more so. Some people say that their entire life is a Lent and that they have no need of a special time. St. Benedict was more modest. He simply wrote in his Rule: Although the life of a friar has to observe the Lent all the time; well, because only a few have this virtue, thus we suggest that during these days of Lent, everyone shall guards their life with all purity; and similarly in this holy season, we shall repair all the negligence we showed in other times (Chapter 49).
The different events in our lives definitely cause us a little bit of comfort. This – but also our disordered concerns – must be put in their places. It is a healthy and balanced spiritual orientation, a return to the right proportions between the different dimensions in our lives. The Lenten efforts – additional and external – are necessary for this reason. The Lenten pedagogy, being proper to Easter, does not want anything besides our deliverance from sin and from everything that prevents us from accessing grace and the mercy of God. St. Benedict describes it with very poetic words, saying that the waiting is accompanied by the joy of spiritual desire of the Holy Easter. Nothing serious or heavy: only lightness, grace, and joy. Obviously, these are the fruits of the Lenten path, which necessarily begin from some effort.
Here St. Benedict is very concrete: So, these days, let us add something to the weight of our servitude: special prayers, abstinence from eating or drinking: so that each one of us can offer to God, out of his own will and with the joy of Spirit holy, something more than what is enjoined to him. We shall deprive our body of some food, drink, sleep, speaking, and solace (ibid.).
To find inspiration for this sublime work, I recommended you to read an entire book from the library: these days of Lent each one of you should takes an index from the library and read the whole of it, from the top to the bottom. These indexes shall be distributed on the first day of Lent. (48)
For us who read less and less, it can be relieving that it happened also to monks to have problems with reading. St. Benedict was a realist: One or two elders shall watch over it. They shall go around the monastery during the hours when the brothers are doing it to see whether there are any slothful brothers sitting idle, or busy in vain chatter, rather than reading; and thus was useless not only to himself, but also a troublemaker for the others. If one day (which will hopefully never come!) such a brother were found, he shall be corrected once or twice, and in case it does not suffice, he shall be punished, giving an example to the others who shall fear it (ibid.)
So we need discipline and perhaps even help. Then we try to become responsible. Let us organize not to lose this time. The spiritual tradition teaches us that it is always easier to walk together than alone. Maybe we should discuss our Lenten deeds to help and encourage each other?
- Bernard Sawicki OSB
Coordinator of the Monastic Institute of the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant ‘Anslemo – Rome