Preparing for Lent 5

With this fifth post on preparing for Lent we return to my starting-point, RB 49, St Benedict’s chapter on the observance of Lent, and RB 48, with its reference to Lenten reading. (If you wish to follow through Benedict’s teaching in a more systematic way, please see the four posts from 2012 entitled Through Lent with St Benedict.)

At the beginning of Lent every member of the community is assigned a book of scripture, known as ‘the Lent Book’, to be read straight through in its entirety. It is meant to be read as lectio divina, that slow, prayerful reading of a text that leads naturally to prayer. Therefore, we don’t, in the first instance, get out our commentaries or multiple translations of the text as though we were about to take an examination in scriptural studies. Instead we get down on our knees and read slowly, patiently, closely. Ideally, we take from our reading a word or phrase that we can chew over at other times in the day so that it becomes part of our very selves.

In previous years I have invited readers to send in a request for a Lent Book to be assigned them. The numbers have grown too great for me to continue to do that but at the end of this post you will find an alternative. The point to be emphasized is that we do not choose for ourselves. We accept what we are given, and if that means we struggle with the text, so much the better. We shall learn something we might never otherwise have done — and that is the point of all our Lenten discipline, to learn something that will bring us closer to God. If we haven’t time for a Lent Book as such, reading through the daily Mass readings is an excellent way of following the course of salvation history in union with the rest of the Church. Others may wish to add something more: a Lenten-themed book of some kind. There is no substitute for scripture, however, and the fact that Benedict includes the Lent Book in his chapter on daily manual labour should alert us to the fact that he expects us to put some effort into it.

Lent Books 2018
Members of the community — nuns, oblates and associates — will all receive their personal assignment. But if you would like to share in this practice, please take the first vowel in your first name and read the book listed below:

a the Book of Genesis. There are several passages that make us stop short. What sort of God is this? He is as far removed from the conventional picture of an Old Testament tyrant as it is possible to be. Are our ideas of God in need of a shaek-up?

e — the Gospel of John. There is almost too much in this gospel to take in, but its great parables and narrative of the Passion are essential parts of our preparation for Easter. Are we blind or lifeless, too?

i — The Book of Exodus. The liberation of the people of Israel is our liberation, too. The transcendent holiness of God should stop us being casual in the way we treat him. How do we measure up to that?

o — The Book of Ezekiel. Not for the faint-hearted, but another insight into the compassion of God and his burning zeal for his people. Where do we stand in relation to God?

u — I and II Corinthians. Read this in the context of what was happening in Corinth and what St Paul says has an uncomfortably contemporary ring to it. How do we live our faith today?

May God bless all who take this on themselves this Lent.

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Shrove Tuesday 2016

Today is the day when the ‘joy and spiritual longing’ St Benedict associates with Lent come to the fore. This is the day for confessing our sins, for the restoration of a right relationship between God and ourselves, and between ourselves and everyone with whom we are in any way at odds. It is the day for being freed from our sins, and freeing others from anything that holds them ensnared. Clearing our larders of eggs and butter and making pancakes is secondary. It is the spiritual preparation for Lent that matters most; but, happily, Catholicism has never been a dour religion so we can carnival (eat meat) and toss our pancakes with gusto, inverting the usual order of things by ushering in the great fast with a great feast.

Today, if not before, we will also think about the form our prayer, fasting and almsgiving should take. If you look back on this blog, you will find several suggestions, but today I would like to mention just one monastic discipline: the Lent Book, a book of scripture chosen by the superior and assigned to each member of the community after some prayer and thought about what he/she would find most helpful or challenging. A hundred members of our online community have already received a personal recommendation, but for those of you who didn’t, but who would value a suggestion, I’m going to invite you to read the Book of Exodus.

With the mass migrations sweeping across Europe, Exodus is a timely reminder of what it means to be a slave then an exile; to be set free by the Lord, then search for the fulfilment of a dream, a promise. But Exodus is much more than a conveniently contemporary account of the dynamics of oppression and freedom. It is a record of the Lord’s tender love for his people, the covenant he established in the desert and ultimately sealed with the blood of Jesus on Calvary. The experience of wandering in the wilderness is one we can all relate to in some measure, along with the experience of sin and failure. The story of Exodus filled Jesus’ last days on earth and helps interpret his final actions and sayings. As such, it is a wonderful preparation for Easter — which is what Lent is all about.

Tips on Reading
As always, pray before you begin to read; read the text as addressed to yourself; and give thanks when you have finished, because grace grows in proportion to gratitude. At some point you will become weary and want to give up, or you’ll seek diversion in concordances and commentaries, but try just to stick to the text and let God speak to you through it. You can delve into the commentaries later to enrich your understanding but don’t let them become an excuse not to engage with the text.

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