Ash Wednesday Reflection
Sr. Julie Sewell, OSB
Ash Wednesday Reflection, 2023 - JOY
From chapter 49 of RB on the observance of Lent, “During these days, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, 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 word joy comes up a second time in this chapter in the next verse. We deny ourselves and “look forward to Holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing”.
Commentators on this section of the Rule focus on the connection between joy and spiritual longing. Our spiritual longing connects us to the Holy Spirit, which in turn leads to joy. Commentators also point out that this is one of the few places in the rule where Benedict sees self-will as something positive. They also point out that in these instructions for Lent, Benedict is focused on each of us, on each and every monastic’s will, desiring that their longing will be for God. So, good questions to ask ourselves are, What do I long for? How is that which I long for connected to life in the monastery? Does what I long for draw me closer to God and my sisters? I encourage you to dialogue with God and these questions this Lent .
In this section of the Rule, the scripture reference to 1 Thessalonians 1: 6 is provided. “And you became imitators of us and the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the Holy Spirit, so that you became a model for all the believers in Macedonia, but in every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything….you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God”.
In the first part of this letter, Paul is thankful for the Thessalonians and optimistic about their future. He is grateful that he sees the fruit of God’s grace among them. In the second part of the letter, he exhorts them to conduct themselves in a particular manner – following the imperatives of the Christian life and that this living indicates one’s relationship to God through Christ, by their standing firm in the Lord. As they stand firm in faith, the Holy Spirit is with them. Paul’s concluding prayer for them is this, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his holy ones”.
We can say that Benedict wishes the same for us: that we be imitators of Jesus, that Gods grace flowing among us is evident, that our life resembles the life laid out for us in the Rule, that we are true to each of our vows, and that we continue to increase and abound in love for one another and all God’s people. So, where are you in this? Are you faithful to our way or life or do you treat it like a buffet line where you choose just what you want? Will you be true to the practices you have chosen? How will you nurture your longing for God in the days ahead?
May the Holy Spirit guide you on your Lenten journey, may each of our journeys be a blessing to our community and the people of God, may each of our journeys lead us to the joy that can only come from Christ!.