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Parish Magazine Article - March 2024

I have just read the Rule of St. Benedict, to my shame for the first time.  It is a monastic rule from the 6th century that sets out the disciplines and structures for the effective running of a monastery. The rules of poverty, chastity and obedience are highly restrictive; the punishments for violations severe; the lifestyle highly demanding.  Praying at set offices eight times a day (including at 2 in the morning) meant that the monk would rarely get more than few hours of unbroken sleep.  Central heating was for wimps and the diet uninspiring. Although eased in later centuries, it has been the basis for the monastic tradition in Western Europe ever since.  Its not the sort of discipline that works in everyday life, but that doesn’t mean it has no value. It is designed to foster Christian virtues of humility, and obedience (albeit expressed through submission to the Abbot), and a growing Christlikeness.

Most of March will be the season of Lent, when we Christians have traditionally given up things that give us pleasure to focus on our spiritual journey. As our world has changed it seems increasingly anachronistic.  Our culture screams at us from the lifestyle sections that the way to real fulfilment is getting what you really desire. The idea that giving something up might be good for you, other than as a grudging acknowledgement of post-Christmas weight gain, is anathema.  Consumerism works by creating desire and then offering to fulfil it.  But our strongest desires are not necessarily our deepest ones.  Giving things up, or fasting can get us in touch with these deeper desires that only God can satisfy.  There is evidence that restricting calories by intermittent fasting or turning our mobiles off is actually good for us physically and psychologically. A good lent can be like leaving the Christmas presents unopened under the tree until Christmas day. There is a joy in the opening that is enhanced by the waiting. So, as well as helping us grow closer to God, our Lenten restraint can amplify the joy of Christ risen when we get to that glorious Easter celebration. I once gave up tea and coffee for lent and had my first large cup on Easter morning.  Before I knew it, I’d done three services and built a compost heap! Lent can be spiritual dynamite.




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