There’s a phrase St Benedict uses in his chapter on Lent that I have always found very helpful: cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus/’with the joy of the Holy Spirit’ (RB 49. 6, alluding to 1 Thessalonians 1.6). Whatever we do or don’t do by way of Lenten offering or penance is to be accompanied by this joy. Moreover, we are encouraged to ‘look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.’ (RB 49.7) What exactly is this joy, and how are we to find it in the midst of all our penitential gloom?
I think the answer lies in what St Benedict says very clearly Lent is all about: living with great purity. It is not so much a question of adding on or giving up this, that or the other as seeking to be more focused on whatever it is we are asked to be or do by virtue of our vocation or state in life, listening for the word of God in any and every situation, giving Him time in a way that we do not always do. Lent is a joyful season in the monastery because we live it with great simplicity. All the accretions of other times fall away. Yes, it can be difficult. We can feel cold and hungry and terribly tetchy. We have to plumb depths of self-knowledge we would much rather not know about. But we also have the opportunity of going out into the interior desert of our lives and learning to know and love God as if for the first time. It is a great and joyful privilege. May you be blessed with the same joy in your own life.