‘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 make its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.’
Rule of St Benedict
Ch 49, On Lent
If you are new to the Rule of St Benedict and have just come across the quote above, you could be forgiven for thinking that monastic life is really for the spiritually elite and ordinary people need not apply. Nothing could be further from the truth. Monasteries are full of ordinary, fallible people trying to do the very best they can, with the people God has called into community. The Rule is a guide and support to help us to realise our full potential. And, as any teacher knows, if you set the bar quite high, some people will surprise themselves and discover strengths they never knew they had.
St Benedict is urging his community to do some monastic ‘sock pulling up’. Even though the horarium (monastic timetable) gives the monastic day a very clear structure, it’s quite easy to get a bit careless here and there. This might show itself in cutting corners in work and prayer, in a less than generous attitude to others and a general lack of focus. Someone looking in on the monastery may not notice these things at all, but the monastic knows when she has become careless. Lent gives us a chance to take stock and to re-focus.
So, if you feel rather weary at the prospect of giving something up, why not look at your daily routine and see if there are small changes that you could make to help you re-focus? These don’t have to huge things, but the cumulative effect can be quite surprising. Things done gently can often bear longer lasting fruits than our more Herculean efforts. I hear St Benedict’s image of ‘washing away’ our negligences as gentle, but firm. He’s not suggesting we set to with a scrubbing brush and some powerful detergent. Rather, I hear the image as water being poured over something and the dirt being dislodged by the force of the water.
For St Benedict the goal of all we do in Lent is ‘to look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.’
So let’s make Lent a time of longing, re-focusing and gently preparing ourselves for the joy of Easter.