Through Lent with St Benedict: 3

Today we reach the final section of RB 49, although it is not Benedict’s last word on Lent (we’ll look at that tomorrow):

Each one, however, must tell his abbot what he is offering up, for it must be done with his blessing and approval. Whatever is done without the spiritual father’s permission is to be attributed to presumption and vainglory, unworthy of reward. Everything, therefore, must be done with the abbot’s approval.

I wonder how many readers of this blog consulted anyone before deciding what to give up or take on for Lent? In community we write a Lent Bill — a statement of what we propose to do — and hand it to the prioress, asking her permission and blessing. It is not unknown for something to be added or taken away, and very humbling the experience can be!

The point Benedict is making here is important: we are not always the best judges of ourselves, nor do we always choose wisely, especially where Lent is concerned. We are often muddled about what it is and how we should meet its demands. Pride and competitiveness can easily creep into our decisions. We get hold of the idea of penance then whip ourselves up into an ungodly fervour. ‘I will fast. I will keep vigil. I will . . .’ I, I, I. The whole purpose of monastic life is to lead us closer to God, which means forgetfulness of self. Very often what we think would be best is anything but. We believe we can ‘go it alone’, not realising that we go to God together or not at all.

For us, as Benedictines, it is comparatively simple. We have chosen to live according to the Rule, under a superior, so we submit our ideas to him/her — and take the consequences.  The encouraging part is knowing we shall have our superior’s prayers, and that can be a great comfort when things get bumpy (as they certainly will).

All very well for a monk or nun, you say, but what about those outside the cloister? I think there is value in talking over our ‘Lenten programme’ with someone we trust, not necessarily a priest or religious but someone whose judgement is sound and whose instincts are good. Articulating what we intend to do can sometimes make us aware that it isn’t quite sensible or will end up making us completely batty. Lent isn’t about punishing ourselves or making dramatic  gestures. It is about quietly and perseveringly focusing upon God and allowing him to transform us. That is why it is so joyful.

If you feel you have begun Lent wrong, take heart. To admit that we’ve made a false start is the beginning of grace. And if you feel you have begun in the right way, thank God, and ask him to protect you from all pride and presumption. It isn’t fashionable to say so, but this is the season when we must wage war against the principalities and powers of this present age. Whatever else Lent is, it isn’t dull.


6 thoughts on “Through Lent with St Benedict: 3”

  1. So true! But how to persuade a population that has come to construe ‘democracy’ as a Divine Right…

    However, vigilant prayer – and structured fasting – as earnest of our intentions – is always the sharpest weapon in our armoury. It is what enables us to move forward.

    Thank you for this guidance through Lent. I’m not one of those familiar with Benedict’s precepts, so it’s educational as well as inspiring!

  2. Every Lent it seems that I am guided to some sort of new understanding. I can’t say that I promise one thing or another in particular, just to do the Lenten walk as sincerely as I can…

    Rosy is right: everyone of your posts are inspirational and real gifts for the journey.

    • In unison with Rosy and Claire, I rise to say that ‘these kind of posts’ are very much worth your writing then. With much gratitude for them,
      I will stop here not wanting to inflame your pride. *smile*
      Deo gratias!

      • The interjection of ‘Deo gratias!’ is intended as thanks to God for the gift of these posts. And not that your pride is not inflamed. If that needed explanation. Am I being overly pedantic?

  3. I have noticed that preparing/delivering an explanation for someone else often results in a better understanding for oneself.
    Robert Burns sometimes had the right idea, as when he penned “. . tae see oorselves as ithers see us” and his description of “Holy Willie”.
    On re-reading the article, I realise I am merely re-wording what you have said – so what’s new?

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