The season of Lent is upon us in many Christian denominations as of this past Wednesday. In the chapter of his rule about Lent, St. Benedict writes, “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” He goes on to urge the entire community to consider certain practices. But let us focus on just this one sentence. How do we make our lives a continuous Lent?
The theologian Father John Dunne has as one of the central ideas of his theology that one should live life according to this: “If I am to die, then how should I live?” It seems to me that Benedict is saying the same thing about living a continuous Lent when, in another place in the rule, he states: “Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour, keep careful watch over all you do.”
What if we were to think about how we would live if this were our last day, or tomorrow would be our last day? What would it mean if we were to keep careful watch over all we do hour by hour? I think that therein lies our Lent. It is contained in the commitment to their conversion that every Christian should strive to live day by day. Think about it: it is a kind of fasting, different from the usual giving up of food or some other pleasure during Lent. In the course of any day, as I encounter others, I face countless times when I must do this kind of fasting as I deal with this one or that one. There is the person who gets on my nerves, the one I avoid, the one I just don’t like as a person. Or there are the ones who think they always knows the answer, the ones who always complain or criticize. All of these things, and many more, we confront every day.
When he talks about giving up something in Lent, perhaps Benedict didn’t emphasize this kind of fasting, per se. But keeping a careful watch over all we do hour by hour definitely includes how I treat others. It will demand fasting from my pride and selfishness, from wanting my own will. What if I fast from criticizing other people, or from talking about them, or I give up something I want to do in order to have time for others? What if I personally find ways to fast from complaining or from thinking I know more than others? It certainly wouldn’t be easy. It would be a continuous Lent.
Think what a conversion of life this fasting could bring about, not only for myself as an individual, but for all those around me. This may not be the kind of fasting people usually think of, but it could be a very important fast, as it means a fasting to bring about a change.
The message on one of the cards that a Benedictine organization put out for the Feast of St. Scholastica struck me. I quote: “Is this not who we are as a Benedictine community? Diverse in age, race, talent, and personality, yet called to bring those differences together to create a vibrant culture of care.”
“A vibrant culture of care” ... as we decide on the “fasting” we will do in Lent, could it be the fasting that we do in dealing with others could be what is demanded of us? The result of that would be that we will have created that “vibrant culture of care.” Is this not the conversion for which we ought to strive? Think then how joyous our Easter feast, and all our days, would be.