In early times, the daily Chapter was a traditional feature of the monastic timetable. The monks left church at the end of the office of Prime and processed to a room near by, where a portion, or "chapter," of the Rule was read and the abbot commented upon it. It was also the natural occasion for announcements to be made affecting the life of the community and for a blessing to be given upon the day's work. Soon the room itself came to be called "the Chapter Room, or House" or simply "Chapter." Even today some form of this practice exists in many monasteries, including our own. Each month this page will feature a chapter talk given to the Community, as well as news and features. We hope you will visit us regularly.

 

Ash Wednesday 2017

In this most austere of chapters (Holy Rule of St Benedict 49), there are two mentions of joy.  Penance, for our holy Father St Benedict, is not a sad business.  We offer “of our own free will in the joy of the Holy Spirit”; and while we deprive ourselves of food, talk and so on, we do it with the joy of Easter in our sights.  From joy towards joy.

            What lies behind the joy of ascesis?  For one thing, it is bound up closely with gratitude.  Our Lenten penances are an expression of gratitude, of our satisfaction, so to speak, with our Redeemer and His work of our redemption, in all its gratuitousness.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

            Biblical history continually proclaims the gifts of God; life and breath in the first instance, His kindness apparent in creation and providence, His unfailing protection.  All are given freely, without measure.  Israel’s response is a joyous recognition and admiration of God’s goodness.  He is “enthroned upon the praises of Israel” (Ps 21/22).  “It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (Ps 91/92).  “Give thanks for He is good” (Ps 117/118).

            If gratitude or thanksgiving in the Old Alliance is a reaction to the wonderful interventions of God, it has even higher relief in the New; it becomes, as it were, a crescendo, for the fullness of revelation has appeared in Jesus Christ.  It has been said that “thanksgiving keeps step with revelation; it is like an echo of revelation in the heart” (Dict Bibl Theol).  Thus, it is man’s personal response to the truth of God Himself, revealed in the Son.

            If in Christ we have the revelation of perfect grace, we see also in Him perfect thanksgiving to the Father.  His whole life is a thanksgiving, a glorification, especially through His miracles and Passion and Death.  He does not refuse to suffer; indeed, He longs for His Hour, His cup.  His thanksgiving flows from His oneness with the Father in love and from His knowledge of His infinite goodness.  It impels Him to consecrate His life to the Father, so that He might sanctify us.  As baptised Christians, we are caught up into that great movement of thanksgiving and consecration, especially in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

            How exactly does penance reflect this movement of gratitude?  Put simply, it is difficult to look upon the humiliated Face of Christ without gratitude for what He suffered for us.  Compunction, its tears and its joy, is the fundamental reaction of the redeemed sinner to the undeserved love of the Saviour.  It turns quickly to thanksgiving and adoration; and this, in turn, makes heaven rejoice, gives joy to the Heart of Christ.  He would have suffered more for us, if he could, He tells Julian of Norwich.  All that He asks of us is an answering love; to know that we appreciate (in the sense of the Latin appretiare “to value at a price”), that we put a fitting estimation on His redeeming sacrifice, concur in it, appropriate it.  It is as if he wishes us to do nothing more than thank Him from the heart.

            There is, however, something more we can do.  That, too, is a gift, this permission to share, even a little, in His sufferings, out of gratitude.  “In the heart of the Church”, writes von Balthasar, “there is the small company whose numbers cannot look at the sufferings of the crucified God without asking not to be totally excluded from them.”  In Lent, we ask to be of that company.  In the Acts we read: the Apostles “left the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the name” (5:41).  In the same vein, St Thomas says that gratitude makes us recognise the good things we have received from another and desire to give payment in return, to imitate oneself the goodness of the other (II,IIae,34).  Evidently, we shall never be able to complete the measure poured out by Christ, since His charity is infinite; but the Church, following Christ’s precepts, permits us, invites us, to use the three principal means of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, by which we share in Christ’s redeeming work.  When we fast, we make satisfaction for sin, our own and that of others, thus purifying our minds as He is pure; we raise our hearts to God and obtain an increase in strength and reward (Pref 4).  When we give alms, we seek to relieve suffering and show solidarity with the poor and afflicted.  We imitate the gratuitousness of God’s giving.  When we pray, we enter into Christ’s own prayer to the Father in praise of His glory and in supplication for the world.  In the Mass, we are even united substantially with His glorified Body, which still has the marks of the wounds he bore for us.

            Imitation of Christ in these well-tried ways springs, as we saw, from our gratitude; and our gratitude from that wondering recognition of Christ’s sacrificial love.  Gratitude, in turn, leads us to take joy in pleasing the Father in union with Christ; brings us a peaceful knowledge that the Father delights in our poor offerings, because they are united with the Son’s unique sacrifice.


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