Lent: Our Pilgrimage to Easter

A Benedictine Approach to Lent

As Benedictines we have the advantage of a whole chapter of the Rule devoted to the observance of Lent. It is clear, direct and joyful, so I suggest we begin by listening to what St Benedict has to say. It forms the basis of the posts to which I link below and will explain, I trust, why Lent is always greeted with joy in the monastery. The call to simplify our lives, discover God anew (or rather, allow God to discover us anew), is one we are apt to think harsh or difficult, forcing ourselves to become what we are not, whereas St Benedict sees the process as our becoming more and more what we are meant to be, a gracious flowering of the gifts given us at baptism. Our Lenten journey is thus a joyous pilgrimage towards Easter and total transformation in Christ.

The Rule of St Benedict, chapter 49, On the Observance of Lent

Here are four consecutive posts that deal explicitly with the teaching in this chapter, but you may prefer to pass on to the more obviously practical content listed under Preparing for Lent. All links open in a new tab.
1. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2012/02/27/through-lent-with-st-benedict-1/
2. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2012/02/28/through-lent-with-st-benedict-2/
3. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2012/02/29/through-lent-with-st-benedict-3/
4. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2012/03/01/through-lent-with-st-benedict-4/

Preparing for Lent

Here are five consecutive posts about preparing for Lent — all very simple and practical. You’ll find I don’t use the word ‘penance’ very often, and there’s a good reason for that.

  1. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2018/02/04/preparing-for-lent-1/
    The importance of prayer before we decide what we are going to do for Lent. Of course, what God decides to do for Lent may be quite different from what we intended or expected. You have been warned!
  2. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2018/02/05/preparing-for-lent-2-2/
    An introduction to the Lent Bill as a way of simplifying our lives. Lockdown has led to some decluttering of material things, but have you thought about the need to declutter spiritually, too?
  3. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2018/02/06/preparing-for-lent-3/
    ‘Going it alone’ is not a good idea. A friend who knows us well may give better advice than a confessor we see rarely.
  4. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2018/02/07/preparing-for-lent-4/
    A brief look at the three traditional disciplines of Lent — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — of which the most important and difficult is almsgiving.
  5. https://www.ibenedictines.org/2018/02/08/preparing-for-lent-5/
    The importance of the Lent book ‘read straight through in its entirety’. You can ignore the second half of the post which was for 2018. This year we invite you to join the community and our oblates in reading the Acts of the Apostles. We go through it in Eastertide but seeing it whole and studying it now will enrich that experience. It certainly has a lot to say about our current turmoil! Later this week I hope to post a few questions that may be useful to anyone reading the text as lectio divina.

There is just one more post I’ll add now, about the practice of lectio divina.
https://www.ibenedictines.org/2011/01/07/lectio-divina/
This particular entry is concerned with the Rule of St Benedict, but I hope it contains some helpful pointers about reading a Lent book or the daily Mass readings. Being humble before the Word of God is something many of us find at odds with everything we have been taught academically. We want to argue and tear meaning from a text; but it isn’t easy to do that on our knees, and, anyway, I have a suspicion that when we come to be judged, we’ll be questioned more closely about how we responded to the scripture and put it into practice than our brilliant hypotheses about authorship or anything similar.

As Lent Begins

I realise I have listed ten posts. There are many more, but it would be kinder to leave you to search them out for yourselves. You can use the search box in the right hand bar (large screen devices) or the pull-down menu on the left (small screen devices). Most of my own plans for February have been dashed because I made the fundamental mistake of forgetting that God is in charge. I didn’t expect to be unwell enough to be forbidden to go online, but now I am getting better I see the wisdom in that. I still believe that cyberspace has huge potential for good but our community involvement does lead to a lot of correspondence which can be draining as well as energizing (especially when I feel guilty about not keeping up!). I hope that I am now a little readier for what Lent offers. We shall be praying for you. Please pray for us, too. May we all be upheld by the joy of the Holy Spirit as we set out into the unknown, knowing that Easter and the Resurrection are at the end of our quest.

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Preparing for Lent 2

One of the ways in which we prepare for Lent in the monastery is to write a Lent Bill*. This is a record of everything we have for our personal use, from books to scissors. It is supposed to be written with complete honesty, e.g. a radio is NOT to be described as ‘a box of wires’, and given to the superior, or in her case, to another nun, to be looked at and, if necessary, changes made. Why do we do this, and how could it help anyone outside a monastery?

The fact is most of us have a tendency to accumulate more than we need. We begin the year with a little token decluttering, but within a very short time one pen has become two, a single pair of shoes has somehow transformed into two or three, and we’d better not say anything about all those items we never really notice in our store cupboards or drawers. Lent is meant to remind us of our total dependence on God but our possessions often hide that fact from us. We rely on them rather than him. Taking a cool look at what we have and assessing it in the light of what we need is a very humbling exercise. During the forty days of Lent we must travel light. It is quite difficult to pray in a room that is over-stuffed with clutter. In the same way, it is difficult to focus on God if we are surrounded with unnecessary  abundance.

It would be impractical to suggest that everyone should write a Lent Bill, but we can all reflect on our material possessions and the ways in which they bind us. I would suggest that we go further and reflect on our spiritual possessions, too. Are we a trifle too confident in our own zeal? Or, on the other hand, is there something lacking that we try to hide from ourselves and others because it doesn’t quite fit the image of ourselves that we’d like to have? Before we begin to think about the practices and penances we shall adopt, let’s think about how to start Lent in the right frame of mind. The period before Lent is traditionally known as Shrovetide, when we confess our sins and ask the grace of true amendment. Both the Lent Bill and confession are all about honesty, starting afresh and trusting to God for the outcome. I think they are an excellent way to prepare for Lent itself.

  • A Lent Bill is of two parts: the first, which I discuss above, is technically known as a Poverty Bill. The second, the Lent Bill proper, details the penances the individual would like to perform during Lent. I hope to discuss this second aspect tomorrow.

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