Lent is more than 8 months away, so it’s silly to be writing about it now, but chapter 49 of the Rule of Benedict is on “The Observance of Lent.” Many Protestant traditions jettisoned most of the church year, retaining only Christmas and Easter, and so I often get curious questions about Lent from Christians who don’t observe it. “What is that all about?” I’ve been asked more than once. Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) before Easter. Christians who observe it use Lent as a special time of focus and repentance to prepare for the celebration of Easter. Benedict says that Lent is a time where where we give ourselves to “refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.”
It is not a time, though, for spiritual grandstanding or attention seeking. Benedict advises monks, when they take on a certain focus or discipline during Lent, to “make known to the abbot what he intends to do, since it ought to be done with his prayer and approval.” I know I’ve practiced Lent as a spiritual extreme sport, doing things not because there was any real spiritual value in my practice but only as a way of showing off to myself or others. Benedict calls this “presumption and vainglory,” and he knows the advice of the abbot to the monks will keep them on a more humble course. For all of us, when we come to the season of Lent next year, the counsel of a pastor, friend, or spiritual director might make for a more fruitful and humble season.
"In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome." - Rule of St. Benedict