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.

 
 
 

 

Ash Wednesday 2019

 

The Baptism of Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness are treated as a diptych by the Evangelists.  If his descent into the waters of the Jordan, a symbol of chaos, is in submission to the Father’s will, the descent of the Holy Spirit, when he comes up out of the water, is a sign of the Father’s seal on this obedience.  By the Spirit, he is inundated by the outpouring of the Father’s Heart, a stream which he alone can sustain and contain and redirect in mission.  Only the Son makes the perfect response to the Father; only his thoughts are wholly in the Lord’s Hand.

            It is a response of obedience.  Cardinal Journet remarks that the consent to John’s Baptism is a total yes, pronounced under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit.  It inaugurates his mission as Servant, which will lead to his baptism of blood.  The first effect of this free and loving obedience is to drive him into the desert for forty days and forty nights to be tempted by Satan (see Journet: Church of the Word Incarnate, vol 3).

            Here in the wilderness there are no waterstreams; only wild beasts and hunger.  According to one commentator “the abyss of physical water changes into a spiritual abyss” (von Balthasar: Theology: The new Covenant).  This threatening abyss is interpreted by the three major temptations regarding the body, the ego and the desire for possession and power.  The first Adam succumbed to and is carried away by the flood of these suggestions; the second Adam stands before the Father in pure obedience.  He knows he has power over the Father’s Heart, for he is the beloved Son of the Baptism; he knows the Father desires to do his will.  He stands also before Satan; the city of the love of God confronting the city of the love of man (cf Journet).  In spite of his consciousness of strength, he chooses the narrow stream of renunciation.  He will not be God’s rival, not a miracle-worker on his own account.  His answers to Satan express concisely his abandonment in total trust to the Father.  He could have performed the stupendous deeds proposed to him; he prefers to renounce all personal power, the exercise of his own creativity and right of ownership, his capacity to win the world and provide unlimited bread for the poor of the earth.  Thus Jesus answers God’s trust in him by self-denial and an absolute confidence in God.  Satan leaves him then, misunder­standing his human-divine interlocutor’s poverty of spirit.  And angels ministered to him.  We recall the psalm verse: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High (Ps 45:4).  Our Lord’s answers are aqueducts for the ministering, gladdening waters of the Holy Spirit.

            Our own Lenten observance, indeed all Christian combat, aims to reproduce this pattern.  It presupposes our desire to be supple in the hand of God, which is human wisdom, too, as Lent is one of the most unpredictable times of the year!  Let us be ready for whatever he asks.  We also have a programme, sanctioned by permission and designed to counter our concupiscences.  We may choose to open the flood gates or to secure them by self-denial.  We fast, in the measure of our gift, to control the body and our vices, and to allow for the elevation of the mind and freedom of the spirit (cf Preface 4).  It gives us the wherewithal to put the devil to flight.  The energy released is put at the service of God not of self-aggrandizement.  There is the all-important spiritual fast as well.  Fasting from pride and vanity and all anger, we are attempting to surrender our clamorous ego in trust.  We are showing our preference, in a concrete way, that God should have all the praise, all the honour.

            Secondly, while we give material alms as a community, it costs us more, personally, to give spiritual alms, such as the good word, another stream to gladden the sometimes beleaguered city of our sister.  Let us never withhold our love, as St Benedict enjoins (RB4).  Let us do as we would be done by.  Thus we provide for each other’s poverty, our mutual need for love and respect.

            The third stream in Lent is our prayer.  In prayer we can surrender our very being to God, which is the ultimate poverty.  We give up all rights over our existence and wait upon Him to give us what we need to survive and flourish.  We can do this ultimately because we know that God has humbled Himself first for us, assuming our humanity, allowing Himself to be tempted and to undergo humiliation and death in the flesh.  In our prayer, we imitate, however feebly, this self-emptying in trust.

            The more we are emptied of self, the more we are able to receive the streams of grace.  Notable conduits are the liturgy and our Lenten book.  The former is like a river, which follows its divinely directed course through the mysteries of Christ and the seasons of the year.  We step into it and allow ourselves to be carried along.  Through our reading, which is a form of renunciation, since the ultimate choice of book was left to another, we open our minds and hearts to what God wants to give us, whether a torrent or a slow, gentle irrigation.  It is His response to our election of Him.

            St Gregory Nazianzen (Orat 37, 11-12) speaks to us of this twofold reality:

If thou hast poured out upon God the whole of thy love; if thou hast not two objects of desire, both the passing and the abiding, both the visible and the invisible, then thou hast been so pierced by the arrow of election, and hast so learned the beauty of the Bridegroom, that thou too canst say: thou art sweetness and altogether loveliness.  You see how streams confined in lead pipes, through being much compressed and carried to one point, often so far depart from the nature of water that that which is pushed from behind will often flow constantly upwards.  So, if thou confine thy desire, and be wholly joined to God, thou wilt not fall downward; thou wilt not be dissipated; thou wilt remain entirely Christ’s until thou see thy Bridegroom.