One of my favorite spiritual works is The Holy Rule of St. Benedict. I grew up with Benedictine Monks from Blue Cloud Abbey as pastors of my parish, and the Monastery was only a few miles away from my home town. This, of course, gave rise to curiosity about what sort of life monks lead. I spent alot of time at the Abbey, including working a few summers there. During that time I came to love the Holy Rule. It is very practical, straightforward, and applicable to the daily life of a priest like myself, or the life of an average layperson. So naturally I would like to share it with you. We won't go through the entire Rule, only some choice selections.
Since tomorrow is the first day of Lent I thought we might turn to Chapter 49: On the Observance of Lent.
Although the life of a monk ought to have about it at all times the character of a Lenten observance, yet since few have the virtue for that, we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent the brethren keep their lives most pure and at the same time wash away during these holy days all the negligences of other times. And this will be worthily done if we restrain ourselves from all vices and give ourselves up to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.
During these days, therefore, let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service, as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink. Thus everyone of his own will may offer God "with joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thess. 1:6) something above the measure required of him. From his body, that is, he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting; and with the joy of spiritual desire he may look forward to holy Easter.
Let each one, however, suggest to his Abbot what it is that he wants to offer, and let it be done with his blessing and approval. For anything done without the permission of the spiritual father will be imputed to presumption and vainglory and will merit no reward. Therefore let everything be done with the Abbot's approval.
There are a number of things here which are applicable to our observance of Lent. I will touch on two of them.
First, St. Benedict counsels the brethren to joyfully offer something above what is required during this holy season. Sometimes it is easy to do only what is required during Lent. We don't break any rules; we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and we abstain from meat on Fridays. We might even give up candy. But St. Benedict urges us to do more than the bare minimum during Lent as an act of love for God and as a way to "wash away during these holy days all the negligences of other times." For him, and hopefully for us, Lent is a time of greater generosity and courage in the spiritual life than normal.
Second, he encourages a level of accountability regarding our Lenten resolutions. He says that the monk should share with the Abbot, or Father of the monastery, what he intends to do. This does two things, it makes sure that the monk doesn't take on too much, and also to provide some accountability. This would be good advise for us as well. During Lent we want to be generous in our penances and good works, but we also do not want to do so much that it takes us away from the duties of our state in life or cause us to not perform them well. So before taking on our penances and good works we might consider sharing them with another person. Hopefully we will share them with someone wiser than us, who can give us good and honest advise. That person can also keep us honest about our progress.
Both of these things are certainly applicable to monks and nuns, but also to all of us who seek to grow in holiness.
Let us keep each other in prayer during this holy season.