Here we are at the beginning of another Lent. Once again we hear the gospel’s call to the traditional ascetical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Those of us who follow the Rule of Benedict are familiar with his Lenten call: "We urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times…by devoting themselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.”
It is all very familiar, perhaps too familiar. Ascetical practices have always been an integral element of Christian life. One of the best definitions of ascesis I have come across is from the book we are presently reading in the refectory. “Ascesis is not a morbid obsession with one’s guilt or sense of unworthiness but a celebration of the experience of being loved unconditionally by God.” The author goes on to say, "Let us not mistake asceticism for spiritual athleticism. Athletic discipline is undertaken to succeed and triumph. Asceticism is undertaken precisely so that in failing, God might triumph in us.”
In am in no way am exalting mediocrity, much less a deliberate, nonchalant attitude to moral failures and sinfulness. Rather, I am inviting myself and you to hear the Lenten invitation that we all need to hear again and again, no matter how familiar it may sound. To hear it as an invitation to accept my life here and now as I find it - in all its brokenness and beauty. And to realize that Christ’s embrace happens most poignantly in the darkness of loneliness and weakness and within the midst of, what could be called, a confident desperation - knowing that we can unfailingly depend on Christ Jesus alone as our Hope and Mercy. May our Lenten journey be filled with this grace-filled dependence.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Abbot Damian with quotations from Vincent Pizzuto.