St Benedict makes some
observations about time in the passages on Lent in the Holy Rule. He speaks of the whole span of a monk’s life:
it ought, he says, to be Lenten in character at all times. He speaks of the past with a tone of regret:
it has, alas, been negligent in some respects.
He looks forward to Easter, the symbol of eternity, rooted in and
transcending human history. Above all,
he speaks of the present, the hodie
of the sacred season, the time of conversion, or reditus to God, in purity of heart and life. It is the time of grace, but a time which can
be squandered, made unprofitable, unless we use it well, expiating our faults
gladly and offering something of our own free will to God, in the joy of the
Holy Spirit. We note that the offerings
listed in RB 49 are small and concrete,
subject to the Abbot’s approval and permission, done in common with all. No room, then, for pride in
St Benedict’s view of Lenten observance.
The call to conversion and penance is, however, a matter of
urgency. “We urge,” suademus, the brethren to redeem the time.
echoes the second reading at the Ash Wednesday Mass. “At the acceptable time I have listened to
you and helped you on the day of salvation.
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Hodie. Says St John Chrysostom: “Let us not let
the opportunity slip, but rather let us display a zeal worthy of his
grace. We press on, because we know that
the time is both short and opportune.
The acceptable time is the time of the gift, the time of grace.” It must be seized today. Meanwhile, it does its work on us. Maximus of Turin emphasises the remedial
character of the time of grace: “These are the days of redemption, that is,
this is the time, as it were, of heavenly medicine, when we shall be able to
heal every stain of our vices and all the wounds of our sins. We shall do so, if we faithfully implore the
Physician of our souls and do not, as people scarcely worthy of the
undertaking, despise his precepts.”
is, therefore, the hour of God’s favour, the day of deliverance and the time of
healing, but likewise of our collaboration with the hour and the action of
have been many hours of God’s favour in Israel’s history, remarks one commentator,
and many days of deliverance; but whereas God acted through His servants in
fragmentary and varied ways, in this last age He has acted definitively in His
see the Spirit of the Father acting in the Son, when He withdraws to the
desert. “At once the Spirit drove
Him” into the wilderness, says St Mark. This urgency underlines His burning desire
and readiness to engage with His Hour, the hour which God’s will has decreed
for Him. He is no dry ascetic but a
lover, constrained by His longing for the baptism of the Cross, which will
cleanse the whole world and bring it back to the Father. Here in the desert, in the forty days of
prayer and fasting and confrontation with the devil, He enters into the
preparation for His Pasch.
is done for our sanctification. He prays
in solitude to the Father, in communion with all men. He prays, in order to reveal to us that His
will is in total obedience to the Father’s and to show us the way to the
Father’s Heart. Although He has no need
to subject body to reason, as we do, he fasts to experience and, again, to show
that the spirit of man must be strengthened and gain ascendancy over the flesh
by self-denial. He allows Himself to be
tempted in a mysterious but real way to show that the devil can be resisted and
put to flight by the power of the Word.
Satan withdraws after his failed attempt on Jesus’ integrity, but only,
as St Matthew notes, “for a time”;
that is, until the hour of the Passion.
Although the phrase is ominous, the outcome will not change, because the
devil is incapable of grasping the silent, inconspicuous potency of goodness
fasting, spiritual combat. This is our
programme, too, in Lent, turning us towards the other, whether that “other” is
God or neighbour. To this end, our
almsgiving also, both material and spiritual, unites us in a warm affection and
solidarity. These traditional weapons
make us ready, equipped for what is and what will be demanded of us in the hodie of Lent. If Lent is a symbol of our life on earth
opening out onto Easter and eternal life, our Lenten preparation strengthens us
to endure in the hour of testing and enables us to stand in the radiant
presence of the Son of Man.
however, our rehearsal for Holy Week and Easter seems, and indeed is,
undramatic, it will be sure to bring its testing moments, as we seek to subdue
body to spirit and cleanse the heart from all that prevents us from enjoying
the beauty of the Lord. We imitate our
Lord and Saviour most, in His preparation in the desert, when we put out trust
in Providence and allow the grace of God, so generously bestowed at this
favourable time, to control our actions and renew our being for the hodie of Easter.
Previous Chapter Talks