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 2018

 

During this time of Lent each one is to receive a book from the library and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent. (RB48) On Ash Wednesday, Mother Abbess distributed the Lenten books and gave the following talk.

There are, as we know, three traditional weapons in the armoury of the spiritual warfare mentioned in today’s Collect, namely, fasting, almsgiving and prayer.  These can be made to correspond to the counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. 

            The body has its share in the adoration of God, remarks Dom Delatte.  It belongs to God and is specially consecrated to Him (Ibid).  Fasting, like chastity, places a voluntary restraint or governance, as it were, on the body.  It is, at the same time both a renunciation and a safeguard.  Even more positively, the purpose of fasting, as St Thomas reminds us, is to allow our mind to raise itself more freely to “contemplation of the heights.”  It is the pure in heart, the chaste, who shall see and contemplate God, according to the Beatitude.  St Augustine takes the same line: “Fasting purifies the soul.  It lifts up the mind and brings the body into subjection to the spirit.  It makes the heart contrite and humble … and enkindles the true light of chastity.”  Perhaps some of us find that fasting makes us hungry and irritable rather than more focussed on eternal things.  We should not, as a result, think that its purpose has failed.  On the contrary, we are experiencing its penitential aspect; then it becomes something we may truly offer in expiation to God for our own sins and the sins of the world.  It is a chance to exercise a greater and purer love.  We may not experience in our senses the joy of freedom from the downward pull of the flesh, but the fact remains that fasting does separate us literally from our human propensity to physical softness and therefore frees us, in spite of ourselves, for spiritual realities.  A word about the inability to fast or the inadvisability of doing any or much fasting.  This usually arises on account of a weakness of the body through age (too old or too young!) or disability of some sort.  But these, too, require a like detachment from bodily afflictions.  The fast is for all of us, the weak and the strong in body, a fundamentally spiritual matter.  We are meant, above all, to fast from our pride and the other deadly sins.  Then we shall hope to acquire a chastity of soul, which is, as Dom Delatte again writes, the true flower and perfection of charity. 

            Secondly, almsgiving corresponds to the counsel of evangelical poverty.  The logic is clear: one gives away one’s possessions; one impoverishes oneself, relatively speaking; and one gives to the poor, to those who have less than ourselves.  It cannot be a matter of self-congratulation, for what do we have that we have not ourselves received?  It is a matter of charity.  St Paul has stern words for those who might give away everything, but not from love.  It profits nothing.  Almsgiving, then, is related to the perfection of charity.  “If you would be perfect, sell what you have and give to the poor.”  Almsgiving, the virtue of poverty, is a sign, a proof, that we desire God as our only possession and that everything we appear to have belongs by right to Him and to His poor.  The person who has grasped this knows that she lacks nothing at all, even if she gives away all she owns.  Indeed, she is promised the kingdom of heaven by the Beatitude, namely, Christ and all that is His as His inheritance.  St Hilary, in his commentary on St Matthew, strikes an almost bargaining note.  “We must”, he says, “purchase the eternity of spiritual goods at the expense of earthly ones”.  The proposition is not a mercenary one, despite the language.  It affirms the truth that while earthly riches are nothing in comparison with the treasure of eternity, they may be used in its service. 

            While fasting has a spiritual meaning, likewise almsgiving.  Our alms can take the form of kindness, even simply the good word as proposed by St Benedict in his Rule.  If others are famished for kindness, we can give from our own poverty; give our time and attention, our very selves.  In one of those Christian paradoxes, we do not lessen our store of love by giving it away.  Instead, it grows and bears fruit and returns to us a hundredfold. 

            Thirdly, prayer is related to obedience.  At first sight, this may not be so evident.  However, at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer we find: Thy will be done.  Here is a surrender to the loving will of the Father, that is, an act of total obedience, desired with passion by the Son as His food and drink.  In identifying ourselves with the prayer of the Son, we embrace His obedience and surrender to the Father.  We learn to intercede as we should for the earthly kingdom and glimpse something of the glory of the heavenly one. 

            Hence, it is important to choose the way of prayer, which is also the way of obedience.  This is within our possibilities.  We can choose whether we want to be contemplative in spirit or not this Lent.  We can choose the way of silence and respect the silence of others, in order that we can all practise the presence of God.  Let us ponder the things of God and the personal message from Him which we shall discover in our Lenten book.  Above all, let us practise fraternal charity which joins together and undergirds our three aspects of Lenten observance.  If we put them into practice in a loving spirit we shall be reflecting on earth the purity, the self-giving and the mutual obedience of the Blessed Trinity.  We shall be disciples in the school of eternity.




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