What would life be like if it was a “continuous Lent”? Surely it would be a life dedicated to growing in honesty – with one’s self, others, and God. In using the Rule as a guide and walking the way of Jesus, growth in honesty is essential. The Rule is about what the Gospels are about: growing in love, this Reign or Kingdom of God which is a life lived as compassion. If perfect (or full) love casts out all fear, it can also be said that this same full love exists only truthfully. True Love cannot lie.
Truth means honesty and honesty is the forum of love. To grow in honesty is to grow in love and to grow in love is to grow in God.
The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent and believe the gospel. (Mk1:15)
This call of Jesus, a call we focus on every Lent, is an urgent invitation to change the way we act and see, to entrust our lives to the good news of divine Love within and among us. This means being honest about the ways we fall short in loving.
As humans though, we are well versed in deceit. We can use it to protect ourselves and to get what we want in ways we think best. We can do it obviously, subtlety, and without even being aware. This way of operating is a way of survival. It is deeply rooted in our psychology, beginning in the earliest development of self-conscious. It is a way the ego uses to maintain its own individual agenda, an agenda of survival which often excludes being other-focused. No wonder then that not everyone has the strength for the honest life that Lent promotes.
Benedict, though, does not give up. He wants Lent to be a time when we at least begin to experience the ways in which we have fallen short and turned away from the true life of God and have focused our minds, our lives on other things, ‘safer’ things.
…during these days let us increase the amount of our service, by going further in the way of special prayers and abstinence from food and drink, so that each person, of his [sic] own free will, offers to God something more than usual, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.
…cut down on food, drink, sleep, talkativeness, joking….look forward to holy Easter with the joy of spiritual longing.
Perhaps eating chocolate is a comforting thing, so comforting that we look forward to eating it in a way that is somehow out of proportion. Maybe it’s about takeaway food, or alcohol. Perhaps we are too long on Facebook at night and sleeping less. This then affects the way we are with people the next day. Maybe we talk a lot to avoid uncomfortable silences. Maybe under the joking there is a hidden desire to be loved.
Is there something in life that, when we think about going without it, can cause a reaction in us? Perhaps this reaction is a reaction from that part of our consciousness that wants to avoid certain truths. Less chocolate might mean risking experiencing an inner wound. Less Facebook might mean we risk missing out on what our friends are posting and so experience the loneliness we were avoiding. Perhaps risking an uncomfortable silence may have us experiencing those thoughts and feelings that condemn us. To not say that punchline may sting a lonely heart.
Lent can be about going a little deeper and gently engaging the natural process of emotions being unblocked, of memories being released. It can be about the truth of how we have, to that point, lived our human journey. The divine life wants to love us into freedom, into truth, into love, into joy. Lent can help, even in the smallest of ways.
Lent may also be about meditating a little more. It could be about creating a period of daily silence. It may be about a conscious decision to observe those we love so we may see the little things we can do for them to express this love in ways ‘tailor-made’ for them.
And there is wisdom in the Rule that ensures abstaining does not become too strong an ascetic. The Rule is not about extremes. It is not about spiritual competition. In letting the community leader know what we have planned, he or she can exercise their wisdom and discernment for us. What is actually life giving and what is an ego-attachment? What could bring us closer to God and others by its absence or by its presence?
With spiritual maturity comes the recognition of the importance of Lent for our human journey.
Lent is all about growing in love and the joy of growing in this love can be a special fruit of Lent. This joy can then culminate on Easter morning as we celebrate the resurrection. After Lent, in the joy of Easter morning, we can experience joy as a manifestation of new honesty.