In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

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.

            This 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.[1]”  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.[2]”  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.[3]

            Lent 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 grace.

            There 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 Son[4].

            We 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[5].  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.

            Everything 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[6]”; 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 and self-sacrifice.

            Prayer, 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.

            If, 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.



[1] 2Cor 6:2

[2] Homilies on Corinthians,12,1

[3] The Sermons of Maximus of Turin, Sermon 35

[4] cf N Watson: Second Epistle to the Corinthians

[5] Mark 1:2

[6] Matthew 4:13


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