A Continuous Lent

The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligence of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge in evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:6). In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval. Whatever is undertaken without the permission of the spiritual father will be reckoned as presumption and vainglory, not deserving a reward. Therefore, everything must be done with the abbot’s approval.

The Rule of St. Benedict, ch. 49 (tr. by Timothy Fry, OSB)

Ever since I discovered the Rule, this passage is one which has stuck with me. I come back to it every year. And every one of the past fourteen years, I fall so far short. This year is no exception.

Outwardly, I have conformed to the exhortation from our holy Father Benedict. I have taken on and have abstained. I have sought the blessing of my spiritual father. But from the euphoria of the handful of weeks leading up to Great Lent, to the first half of Lent’s first week, the ensuing days have revealed my soul to be dry as dust. All my “rapturous ramblings”? Who’m I kidding?

Yes, it’s incredibly easy to read a lot. It’s nothing to recall words and concepts. It’s a small matter to weave these things together into something that appears wise and solemn, even if only to oneself. But it fools no one–well, except oneself, perhaps. My smoke and mirrors illusion was working fairly well. Everything outwardly seemed on such a happy trajectory, academically, personally. But before I could very long enjoy that, the great Lenten squeezing of the soul came on. And I produced nothing. My prayers are rote, often only half-attended to. My fasting has been all but non-existent since the first week of Lent. I have now missed Liturgy three Sundays, travel and illness notwithstanding. Contrary to St. Ephrem’s prayer, I have held on to a spirit of despondency.

Has this all been little but external? Will any of it ever touch my own soul? Whatever happened to this great “stitching together of mind and life” that I so touted during the first week of Great Lent?

Ah, Benedict, father of monks, I’m not sure I could take life as a continuous Lent. Pray for me, holy father, a sinner.