(In which I shamelessly paraphrase and elaborate upon chapter 49 of the Rule of our Holy Father Saint Benedict. In my defense, sometimes putting new words to a familiar text can help us hear it in a fresh way. And perhaps even begin to take it seriously…)
My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
It is clear from the words of the Bible, the instruction of the church throughout the ages and the testimony of our own experience that our lives need to be continuously reoriented toward God through repentance and times of renewal. This constant striving to return our hearts and minds and all that we have and all that we are to the One who has given us everything is not an easy task. There aren’t many of us who are up to taking on the weight of such a commitment day in and day out. That’s why we need the encouragement that is gained from the entire community pulling together at the yoke. Making things right is hard work. We have a lot of mess to clean up in our lives. And now is the time to get started on that project.
Here is how we can do it:
ü By not giving in to things that we know do not lead us to God;
ü By giving ourselves wholeheartedly to our prayers and letting them work on us in our very core;
ü By spending time with the life-giving Word in which God is truly present to you and me;
ü By doing more than being sorry for our sins, but being ready and willing to change our ways for real and forever; and
ü By temporarily giving up a few small things in order to remind ourselves that we are not the Source of our blessings and that we are called to share our gifts with those of God’s children who have to do without.
This stuff is really important, loved ones, so let me say it one more time in a slightly different manner: During these forty days of reflection, try to focus on the state of your union with God by adding to the things—like prayer—that fill your True Need, and taking a few things away—like some food or drink—that only fill your fleeting desires. If you go that extra mile because you want to rather than because you think you ought to, then you will be amazed at how the Holy Spirit fills you with joy!
I could say it again in yet a third way (e.g., give up some comforts and some frivolous behaviors that detract from your spiritual life anyway, in order to take a good, hard look at your priorities) but I think you get the point by now. The Big Picture message is that even though this life provides an ample share of crosses to be borne, there is New Life at the end of the road. We are an Easter People! Thanks be to God! We should hone in on that reality so keenly that it feels as if it’s the only thing we could ever possibly want!
Like I said at the beginning of this letter, it is a joyful path we have undertaken but not an especially easy one; therefore, we should help each other on the way. Let me know what disciplines you plan to practice during these holy days so that I can pray with you in them. If we launch out on our own in these endeavors, we might well be tempted to give ourselves the credit for being such terribly fine and wonderful people, and we might even deceive ourselves into secretly believing that we are doing God a favor! So let me know what you’re up to, okay? I am here for you.
May the grace and peace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ abide with you throughout this holy season. And may the Holy Spirit fill you with joy in giving!
Your Sister in Christ,