We are always being reminded that a monk’s life should be a “continuous Lent” or words to that effect. But if you look closely at the Rule of St Benedict, you soon realize that the chapters contain far more than the title suggests, and that is true of Chapter 49, On the Observance of Lent, as well as many others. The previous chapter, for example, on the Daily Manual Work, also talks about the other important things a monk must do in the course of the day such as lectio divina. To some extent, Benedict seems more interested in idleness, the enemy of the soul, and in how to combat laziness in monks, than in work itself. So Chapter 49 talks about the fundamental aspects of a monk’s spiritual life and development, that is, what a monk should be doing at all times, Lent or no Lent. There is the need for humility in always seeking permission and not becoming one’s own abbot and then, of course, “looking forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing and the joy of the Holy Spirit.”
Now I could speak this evening about our negligences as regards “prayer with tears, reading, compunction of heart and self-denial” or about the common monastic sins of “presumption and vainglory”. However, tonight, as we have just celebrated the Easter Octave and are well into the glorious Easter season, I would rather say a few words about “holy Easter” and “the joy of the Holy Spirit.”
To begin with, I would say, and I believe this, that just as a monk’s life ought always to have something of a Lenten aspect about it, it should also be filled with the light of Easter and the joy of the Spirit. Had we not been reborn in the fountain of mercy and forgiveness and given new life through faith and baptism, then we would never have been able to embark upon this life of grace, which is the monastic vocation. Had Christ not risen from the dead then this life we share in the monastery would have been unconceivable and the Benedictine vocation would never have arisen among men and women. It is only the experience of Easter and the knowledge that the Risen Christ is with us and walks with us in our daily search for God, that makes it possible for us to commit our lives to that search by following the Way of the Cross and returning through obedience, patience and perseverance to the Father who loves us and to the Son who gave his life for our salvation. And in this journey into the heart of God we are guided by the gentle inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Hence, it can be said that our life is truly Trinitarian, informed by and reflected in the life of Holy Trinity.
Last Sunday, the Octave of Easter, we heard that wonderful Gospel passage from St John, Chapter 20, about Jesus coming into the Upper Room and meeting with his disciples on that first Easter evening. Standing among them, he said, “Peace be with you,” and showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy and he said to them again, “Peace be with you.” Now that joy was derived from seeing the open wounds of the Risen Christ and being shown by Jesus himself that every joy, grace and blessing can be found right there in those very wounds. Those wounds are not there simply to show us that it really is Jesus who is risen from the dead, but rather to teach us that the Cross is the only way to Resurrection and Glory and that we, who are born again of water and the Spirit, already share in the life of our Risen Lord, that our wounds, whatever form they take, are in some way proof that we too are already living the New Life that Jesus came to bring us through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.
As we celebrate Eastertide this year, let us try to be more conscious still of this great mystery of faith: that just as the penitence of Lent leads us to the joys of Easter, so too the celebration of Easter helps us make sense of the austerities of Lent and of the monastic life in general, and much more than that, the passion and tragedy of our own lives. Looking back at Lent and Passiontide from the perspective of the Empty Tomb and the Easter Garden, the Road to Emmaeus and the Upper Room, it all begins to make sense, as it did for Mary Magdalene and the Beloved Disciple, as it did for Cleopas and his companion and for Thomas. “You foolish men! So slow to believe the full message of the prophets! Was it not ordained that the Christ should suffer and so enter into his glory?” said Jesus to the two disciples in their sadness and dejection as downcast they walked home to Emmaeus by the light of the setting sun. “Doubt no longer but believe,” he said to Thomas on the Octave of Easter.
We are often downcast and forlorn, our lives tinged with sadness and despair, when we think of our own failings and the mess we have made of our spiritual life. How many of us were actually faithful to the good intentions we made at the beginning of Lent? How many of us feel that we have let God and ourselves and our neighbour down in our lack of fidelity to our vocation and to the Holy Rule, even in the highly mitigated form in which it is lived today? How often do we doubt ourselves or others, the Church, our superiors and so on? At times we leave our faith on a back burner and just go through the motions. We are not even brave enough to ask with Mary Magdalene, “Where have you put him?” or to say with Thomas, “Unless I see and unless I touch, I refuse to believe.” We are often half-hearted and evasive in our self-misery and indifferent in our doubting,
Easter should be the antidote to all that. The good Lord invites us each day to see him and speak with him, to listen while he explains the scriptures to us and to recognise him in the breaking of bread. Above all he invites us lovingly to approach his open wounds and put our fingers into the holes made by the nails and our hand into the gash in his side. He longs for us to recognise and accept that his wounds are now ours and that our own wounds are now his. This Eastertide the Risen Christ wants us to know that nothing is lost and all is gained, that our hearts can be filled with joy and that the Holy Spirit is ours, for Christ lives in us and we in him.
Let us live a life, then, that is truly Paschal to the very core of our being and in the Risen Christ let us discover and enjoy together the sheer bliss and happiness of eternal life. Amen.