Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lenten JOY?

Today I had the pleasure of attending Sr. Karen Joseph's "Saturday at the Dome" program on St. Benedict and Lent. With Ash Wednesday coming up this week, it seemed an appropriate time to start getting ready for a new spiritual season. Some years Lent just kind of comes and goes, but this year I want to pay enough attention to let it be meaningful.

In his Rule, St. Benedict devotes one chapter to Lent: Chapter 49. (It's two paragraphs long. This is a bit shorter than the three rigorous chapters devoted to Lent in the Rule of the Master, one of St. Benedict's main sources for his rule.) Getting to the point, St. Benedict says that Lent is the time for us to get real, to "wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times." The whole idea of Lent is for us to get refocused on who we actually are called to be, to awake from spiritual torpor, and to get with it. I like a kick in the pants when I need it.

The thing that Sr. Karen really brought out, though, is that St. Benedict's vision of Lent is aimed toward JOY. (Did you know that the chapter on Lent is the only chapter of the Rule where St. Benedict mentions JOY? I didn't.) He says,

During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the JOY of the Holy Spirit. In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with JOY and SPIRITUAL LONGING (emphasis mine).

The point of compunction of heart and penitence is to leave behind what would keep us from fully connecting with God, for whom we all long. And the result when we leave behind those chains of lethargy or sin or half-heartedness? We will catapult with good zeal into the arms of God! That is indeed cause for joy!

Lent isn't just about a long dirge leading up to the crucifixion. We are EASTER people. The resurrection always trumps the crucifixion. The whole point of Christianity is that life wins out over death. Good triumphs over evil. With the Holy Spirit working through us, we also will win out over the forces of death and live with God. Wow.

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