Thursday After Ash Wednesday
On this day after Ash Wednesday, we might expect the Opening Prayer to refer to the season of Lent, or at least to works of penance. But in fact we heard an ancient and very beautiful prayer which sums up the spiritual life at all times: “Prompt our actions with your inspiration, we pray, O Lord, and further them with your constant help, that all we do may always begin from you and by you be brought to completion”.
St Benedict gives the reason for this in Chapter 49 of the Rule, “On the Observance of Lent”. He says that a monk (or any Christian) should really be living at all times in the spirit of Lent, a spirit of wholehearted conversion to God. He admits that our human frailty will often cause us to fail in this, but if we don’t try to live in this spirit during the time of Lent, when are we going to get around to doing so?
For St Benedict, the spirit of Lent is not one of general gloom. It’s more a spirit of free and joyful offering, a kind of personal offertory, “so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit”. The idea is to keep our eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished the this race we’re in. He never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – and so he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever.
That’s why he could calmly announce to his disciples that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. No hint of gloom or self-pity there.
And then he proceeds to invite us to follow him: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. The idea is not to keep looking at the cross, but to keep our eyes on Jesus, who never lost sight of where he was headed, and so could put up with anything because of his joy. And we’re expected to do the same. To paraphrase St Teresa of Avila, “A gloomy Christian is a lousy Christian”.
Let’s not disappoint the Lord. Instead, let us live this Lent and all the days of our lives in what Pope Francis calls, “The Joy of the Gospel”.