Thursday, December 4, 2008

Little Lent

It is interesting that the prescribed daily reading[1] in the Rule of St. Benedict, on the occasion of the First Sunday in Advent and the beginning of this New Liturgical Year (November 30, 2008), has to do with observing Lent. It has to do with penitential living. Benedict insists that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent”[2], but allows that there should be at least “seasons” when more specific ascetic activity would become both a personal and collective focus in the lives of his disciples.

In the tradition of the Eastern Church, Advent is observed as “Little Lent.” The tradition makes sense, at least to me, and is certainly in line with Benedict’s thought. We are preparing ourselves for the commemoration and celebration of the First Appearing of Christ. “The negative effort at renouncing sin finds expression in positive acts.”[3] It seems only appropriate to make some kind of offering of ourselves during this seasonal remembrance, to spend time in recollection, reconciliation, and reparation.

There is no personal penance or oblation that we can offer that will atone for our sins.[4] Asceticism, though, isn’t about atoning for our sins. It is about awareness, preparedness, and watchfulness. It is about the earnest development of a purer and more pious consciousness. It concerns itself with necessarily improving our lives because of our sins.

In anticipating the commemoration of Christ’s First Appearing as the gentle and quiet Lamb of God slain by his enemies, we are, in essence, anticipating his Second Appearing as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who will destroy his enemies. This time, “The Savior will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgment he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: You did these things, and I was silent.”[5]

The words of Christ in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday in Advent are poignant, calling us to the Lenten mindset spoken of by St. Benedict. “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”[6]

[1] RB Ch. 49
[2] RB 49:1
[3] Adalbert de Vogue, Reading Saint Benedict, p. 243
[4] Ephesians 2:8-9
[5] St. Cyril, Liturgy of the Hours, p. 143
[6] Mark 13:33-37