The Turn of the (Monastic) Year

Tonight after Vespers we enter the monastic ‘Little Lent’, a period that lasts until Lent itself begins. Throughout this period, Fridays are set aside as days when we fast and maintain a more complete silence than usual. They are desert days in the midst of autumn fuitfulness; days out of time during the winter cold. The simplification of life that these Fridays bring is always welcome, although I must admit that when it is very cold one does seem to spend more time thinking about the next meal than is quite proper! Everyone needs some desert time in their lives, but it is a mistake to think that it means going somewhere special or making a huge change in one’s routine. Some can do that, but many cannot. Our change of gear is barely perceptible to outsiders. What matters is the renewed focus on things of the Spirit; the intentional simplification of food and drink in order to be more attentive to him; the interior and exterior quietness — always ready to be interrupted for another’s need but carefully guarded from self-indulgent chat and gossip. These are not heroic things but they mark the monastic turn of the year as surely as the blackberries in our hedgerows or the fields of golden stubble all around. Paradoxically, they are part of the fruitfulness of asceticism, for without asceticism there can be no love.


25 thoughts on “The Turn of the (Monastic) Year”

  1. Thankyou. The beauty of your writing always brings my day to a stop for a few moments of stillness & quiet reflection. Often echoing through my day.

  2. Thank you for this insight into your lives. May God speak to you richly on theses special days.
    I wish we could all be as disciplined as you are!

  3. Good Heavens! (as Archdeacon Grantly used to say in Barchester long ago).

    Sorry but don’t feel strong enough today to enquire what actually happens when Lent begins in earnest. So I will leave the question hanging in the air…!

    I am left wondering though, if male Benedictines also follow this regime, memories of some of the huge ones I have met keep rising up…!

  4. I agree that discipline is important and can be very fruitful, but I think “without asceticism there can be no love.” is overstating it a bit.

    • This was my thought exactly when I read this line. It sounds very poetic but I am not really sure what it means. I have known some very loving people who were not particularly ascetic. Strange idea.

    • Could I courteously suggest that that you may not truly know what asceticism is? I don’t mean that in a snide or aggressive way, but ascetic theology, for example, tends to be neglected by all but a few and most people draw their ideas of ascetisism from a general idea of ‘giving up’ or ‘depriving oneself’. However, I haven’t the time to write, and I can’t imagine anyone would want to read, an essay on asceticism from me. I think most of my monastic readers will understand and maybe one of them will comment further.

      • And most respectfully I respond that I do understand ascetic theology and it was certainly not my intention to make you defensive about this. I still maintain however that your statement “without asceticism there can be no love” is hyperbolic.

        • Dear ‘A Reader’, I was replying to the comment above yours. (I don’t usually respond to anonymous comments). However, the link Macrina Walker has thoughtfully provided expresses my view very succinctly.

          • Ha, ha,I can understand your confusion but I am not trying to be anonymous. My name is Andrew Reader but I don’t usually post my whole name online as it opens me up to spam when I also have to provide an email address. You still seem a bit defensive. I am sorry about that – I meant no offence- I just happen to have a different opinion than you do. It happens.

  5. I’ve just read this now, and also have no time to write on asceticism at the moment (although perhaps it’s something that some of us should think of doing), and if Sister Catherine doesn’t like me simply linking to another blog she must feel free to delete this, but I couldn’t help being reminded of this post that states things rather more bluntly than she has done. It may also help to explain why asceticism is important.

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