March 5, 2014
Season of Lent
Peace and blessings to you. No doubt we are all rather tired of winter this year. It has been a tough winter for the entire country. Here in the Chicago area we have had near record cold as well as snow. And it is not over yet. But we can look forward to spring coming soon, we hope.
As Catholics we also look forward to the coming of Easter at this time of year, but only after having experienced the 40 days of Lent. In chapter 49 of his Rule for Monks, St. Benedict talks about the observance of Lent. It is a relatively short chapter in his Rule, yet every time I read it I am struck by the fact that for St. Benedict Lent is not only to be a time of fasting and sacrifice in preparation for Easter, but that the joy of Easter is to be present during Lent itself! He says that:
“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. 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.” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 49)
The joy that St. Benedict speaks about is the joy that comes from the Holy Spirit, as he says, and it is the joy of knowing and encountering the Risen Christ. This encounter with the Risen Christ brought inexpressible joy to the first disciples of Jesus after his resurrection, and as modern day disciples, we are invited to have much this same experience. This is why St. Benedict speaks of Lent as a joyful time, as really every time and season should be joyful if we truly believe in the Risen Christ as present with us. Lent, though, is a time for a renewed and especially intense focus of this faith experience.
This joy of knowing Christ is also exactly what Pope Francis has recently written and spoken about when he said: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus…. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.” (The Joy of the Gospel, # 1). Lent therefore is to be a time of intensely renewing our faith in the Risen Lord and of renewing this encounter with him. Our renewed and frequent participation in the Eucharist and in the Sacrament of Penance as well as our Lenten sacrifices, fasting, prayer and charitable acts all work together to help us “empty ourselves” of our daily anxieties and of our self-centeredness in order to allow Christ to come more deeply into our lives. It especially means to make every effort to rid ourselves of the burden of sin which always turns us away from Christ and to our own selfishness. For this reason I strongly encourage you to make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance this Lent.
It is my prayer and hope that you may live these 40 days of Lent in a spirit of faith and of joy and that you may ever more deeply come to know the Risen Christ in the “joy of the Holy Spirit.” Let us pray for one another!
Abbot John Brahill, O.S.B. ‘67