Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"Return to Me with All Your Heart"

The life of a monastic 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 wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” (RB, Ch. 49) Next week, on Ash Wednesday, we will hear these words from Chapter 49 of the Rule of Benedict at Morning Prayer. Benedict tells us that Lent is an excellent time to do some house cleaning, house cleaning of our soul.  What does “house cleaning of our soul” mean?  I have a bowl on my dresser in my room similar to the one in the picture and a lot of things end up in the bowl:  my sunglasses, keys, medals, pennies, and small mementoes.  Once in a while the bowl is overflowing and I am reminded that it is time to clear the bowl.  “A monastic Lent,” Joan Chittister, OSB, tells us, “is the process of emptying our cups. Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod.” It is good that Benedict in Chapter 49 provides us with some antidotes to the sludge we have accumulated since Lent last year.  He suggests a little more prayer, a little less food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting. I am reminded of the athletes who competed recently in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Monastics are not very different from athletes who build up their strength by hours and hours of grueling practice to be in tip-top shape when the time comes to compete. We build our stamina to face the spiritual challenges that come our way by adopting the antidotes that Benedict invites us to tender to.  Just as athletes don’t decide on their own what exercises they will do to reach their peak, they rely on their coaches to help them make those decisions, the same is true of monastics. We consult the wisdom of the Prioress or Abbot before undertaking our Lenten practices so that we don’t go to extremes.  That is not the Benedictine way.

As we embark on this holy time of Lent I pray with the psalmist for you: “Create in me a clear heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  Do not cast me way from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.” (Ps. 51:10-11)

Hélène Mercier, OSB


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