Friday, August 8, 2014

CHAPTER 49: Lent

The life of a monk should be a continuous Lent. However, since there are very few who can handle that kind of intensity all the time, we advise that at least during the days of the Lenten season, a monk should guard his life with particular purity and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the shortcomings of other times.  Let us devote ourselves to tearful prayers, to reading and repentance, and to abstinence.  So too, let us add something to the usual amount of our service: special prayers, abstinence from food and drink…a little less talking, a little less joking around, and with the joy of spiritual desire await holy Easter. [1]

     We tend to associate Lent with fasting and penance, but the word “joy” comes up twice in this chapter.  In Latin, the word is gaudium, and this is the only place in the Rule where it appears.  So Lent isn’t just about ‘tearful prayers.’  It’s primarily about getting ready for the Great Feast—looking forward to something wonderful.  And just as the athlete’s life isn’t so much about training as it is about the game itself, so the monk’s life (that ‘continuous Lent’) isn’t so much about sorrow and self-denial as it is about joyful anticipation. Granted, sorrow and self-denial have something to do with it.  After all, if we weren’t keenly aware of our unworthiness, we’d hardly appreciated the magnitude of Christ’s gift to us at Easter.
     So the fasting and abstinence and repentance are all a sort of spiritual preparation to receive a gift.  If we’re doing it right, though, we should want to give even more.  But how?  Jesus Christ is Lord of Creation.  All that we have belongs to him already.  So what do you get for the man who has everything—literally everything?

     A story is told about Saint Jerome that he had a vision on Christmas Eve in which Our Lord came to him and asked him for a gift.  The saint answered, “Well, I just finished translating the entire bible from Hebrew and Greek.  How’s that?”
     “That pleases me,” said Jesus, “but it’s not really what I was hoping for.”
     “Umm…I do a lot of fasting,” said Jerome, “and I’ve already tried being a hermit.  What if I give away all the rest of my possessions?”
     “No, Jerome,” said Jesus,  “That’s not it either.”
     After thinking about it for a while, the old saint finally admitted that he couldn’t think of anything else he could do.
     And Jesus replied, “My friend, you have forgotten to offer me your sins.”
Indeed, there is nothing we have that wasn’t given to us in the first place.  So the only thing that really belongs to us is our sinfulness, and—irony of ironies—this is the one thing that Jesus really wants.  So we spend Lent reminding ourselves of our mortality.  We remind ourselves that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.  Then we think about our sins, and with great joy, we bring them to Christ as a gift, wrapped up in repentance.

[1]  I should probably have saved this chapter for February or March, but here we are at 49, and I feel like we should take the chapters of the Rule in order, so...

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