Lent Book 2017

An important part of a Benedictine’s experience of Lent is the so-called Lent Book, given out at the beginning of Lent by the superior of the community and to be read ‘straight through, in its entirety ‘ (RB 48. 14–16). We cannot be sure whether St Benedict intended the book to be one of scripture or some other codex from the library. I think myself he probably meant scripture, because the instructions he gives for the way in which it is to be read (per ordinem ex integro), and the care with which senior monks are instructed to ensure that everyone takes this duty seriously (et videant ne forte inveniatur frater acediosus, etc) suggests we are dealing with something inherently holy, the practice of lectio divina in its purest form.

There are two point to note: the choice is made for us by another, and the reading we are to do is situated in Benedict’s chapter on daily manual work. In other words, our Lent Book, if received with faith and goodwill, will be something the Lord desires us to hear, not necessarily what we want to hear — and we’ll have to work at it. That doesn’t mean we scurry to the nearest commentary or exegetical essay, though they are good and useful adjuncts to study. Rather, it means that we should take time over the text, praying beforehand that the Holy Spirit will illumine our understanding, seeking to take away a word or phrase that we can meditate on through the course of the day, and always ending with a prayer of thanksgiving, no matter how dry, barren and apparently pointless the whole process has seemed to us to be.

This year, for various reasons, I am unable to make individual recommendations, but here at the monastery we shall be reading I and II Corinthians. St Paul wrote more to the church in Corinth than to anyone else and the problems he had to deal with are distressingly familiar: disunity in the Church; questions about morality and how far a Christian should or could accommodate to the prevailing mores of a cosmopolitan society; what love means in practice as well as theory; the reality of the Resurrection and the true nature of Christ. There is a lot there on which to ponder as we make our way towards Holy Week and the joy of Easter. Perhaps you, too, would like to join us in our lectio divina.