Thursday, February 7, 2008

Lent: A Season of Holiness

A reflection on the meaning and practice of Lent given to the nuns of the Abbey of St. Walburga by Mother Maria-Michael .

Who could begin Lent without reading St. Benedict's chapter on Lent in the Rule (cf Rule of St. Benedict Chapter 49)? In the seventh verse of the chapter, we read "... 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." He uses the word "some". St. Benedict never goes overboard. There's always a sense of balance. We shouldn't go to the point where we become bitter about life. And he also uses the word "joy." We don't often hear joy in Lent; and yet St. Benedict expects this.

So we wonder, what is St. Benedict asking of us? To keep ones life most pure. Purity of Heart. What does that mean to us? Let's take a look at some scripture quotes:

"What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man" -Mt 15:18-20

"This people honors me with their lips , but their hearts are far from me" -Is 29:13

And throughout Lent, we sing in the liturgy "Harden not your hearts!"

What are the things that harden your heart; and what brings healing? Lent is the season to look at these things. We know that compunction of heart, sorrow for our sins, softens the heart. Let the Scriptures puncture your heart and bring healing.

When I look at chapter 4 of the Rule of St. Benedict, I see how Benedict brings us healing also. In chapter 4, Benedict couples the negative and the positive, the sin and the cure. Take, for example verses 20-21:

v. 20:"Your way of acting should be different from the world's way" (that's the negative)
v. 21 "Prefer nothing to the love of Christ," (that's the positive, the "cure" to the negative.)
This is the monastic way of healing. We seek knowledge and forgiveness.

What are the vices we watch out for in the monastery? Self-will and murmuring. Self-will blinds us by feeding our own desires. It is by far holier to seek to do something another's way when the end result will be the same. Murmuring is a poison. I say this from experience. We are responsible for the atmosphere we create. What we say and do will have an effect. What's the best way to avoid murmuring? Keep silence! It's a great virtue. We know that silence isn't the end-- it's prayer.

So let us purge all evil together by our fasting this Lent. Our fasting must be coupled and supported with prayer. Prayer and fasting has great power as we know from the Gospels. In Mark 9:14-29 we read the account of a possessed man who was brought the the disciples of Jesus for a cure. Jesus came to the crowd and cast out the spirit that the disciples were unable to cast out. When they asked Jesus why they were unable to cast it out He replied, "This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting." (Mk 9:29)

If we try to find what Lent is about, we find the words over and over again "Return to the Lord." This implies a change of conduct. God promises a change in attitude to His people if they change their ways. This is a time of rebuilding our own temples. "Do you not know that you are God's temple?" Do not become indifferent. There is a real danger in indifference. Instead let this be a time of returning to our first fervor. The power of Love!

In the book of Hosea we read of this "Return to the Lord." We also read of God's chastisement. The chastisement, though is of a jealous lover longing to bring back His beloved. There is a sorrow because of the rejection and yet God is faithful. No matter what, God is always faithful. He awaits our return.

So come, let us return to the Lord our God. And when we do, He says, "I will heal their defection, I will love them freely." (Hosea 14:5) He loves us freely! I find such comfort in that.

Let us remember that we belong to the Mystical Body of Christ. When you fast, keep in mind all priests, religious and our families. Put a purpose to your fasting. Unite your hearts to it. God asks for our sincerity. for that is something we all need. It only takes a little smile, an act of kindness. Be a source of encouragement.

We are called to no different holiness than the the saints throughout history. They were given the same food to eat as we are given-- namely the Eucharist and the Word. They became holy... so should we. Aim for holiness. We have that choice. Lent is about choosing-- Christ!

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