The season of Lent has begun. How do we observe Lent in our lives? Do we give something up? If so, what? When I was growing up, my friend and I gave up Carmex (the medicated lip balm) some years. Strange, but true — and perhaps not the very best way to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus.
Perhaps the ancients of the Church can help us. In his Rule for Monasteries, written in the sixth century, St. Benedict (c. 480-547) includes a chapter entitled, “On the Observance of Lent.” He writes:
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.
For his monks, St. Benedict advises the moderate withholding of food, drink, sleep or talking. But more than that, he has suggestions on what to add: prayer with tears, reading, and holy desire.
I especially like how Benedict ends this passage. During Lent, Christians are to look forward to Easter with the “joy of spiritual desire.” We know that Easter brings joy, but so should the darker season of Lent bring a somber and holy kind of joy — that of yearning for Christ, whose resurrection we await. May this unique joy be yours as you prepare for resurrection and renewal in your life.