Chapter 49 – A Benedictine Roadmap for Lent

by Br. Ricky OSB-F

Novice Master of the Feline Cloister. He enjoys instructing novices and humans in the fine points of The Rule of St. Benedict.

Br. Ricky, OSB-F
Novice Master

Br. Ricky, Novice Master, is almost ready to begin a class on Chapter 49 – The Observance of Lent.  Resident Novices are ready to give their reports on selections from this chapter of The Rule of St. Benedict.  With lots of excited mewing and purring, they are settling into their assigned, not-too-comfortable cushions.

Br. Ricky (Br R);  (Delivered in a loud mew to be heard above the din.) Alright Novices, time to begin the instruction.  (No response.  The novices continue to mew and meow amongst themselves.  Br. Ricky tries again, mewing as loud as he can, but to no avail.  Before a tiny growl could issue forth, he remembers caution from the Rule to “let mercy triumph over judgment.”  (RB 64.10)  Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Br. Ricky remembers the failsafe way to get a group to stop mewing.)


All the Novices as one:   And also with you!  (And the chapter room is suddenly quiet and mewless.)

Br R:  (With a sigh) Thank you, Novices.  I know you are excited about this class.  (The novices all nod or wave a paw for thumbs up.)  But please remember what Benedict said in the Rule.

Br R:  Terri is there anything else you wish to share.

Terri:  Oh, yes.  Benedict says that we should devote ourselves to prayer with tears.  I usually don’t shed tears when I pray.  What is this all about? I learned that in Benedict’s day prayer with tears was considered the best kind of prayer.  The tears were all about a deep recognition of how we miss the mark and turn from God by what we think, say, and do.  This isn’t the only place the Benedict mentions prayer with tears.  You find it in RB 4.57, 58 and 20.3.

I was also curious about “compunction of heart.”  What is this and is this something of value for today?   “Compunction” is defined as “a feeling of guilt or moral scruple that prevents or follows the doing of something bad.”  (A few hisses issue forth in the chapter room at the words “guilt” and “moral scruple”.)  But, really, compunction of heart is to feel deeply sorry or regretful of something that we did or said.  I can mew to that.

Compunction of Heart

Novice Scholar Little Jenny

Benedict also mentions devoting ourselves to reading.  Benedict gives the community extra time for reading and prayer in Lent as explained In Chapter 48 – The Daily Manual Labor (48.14). Each member is to receive a book from the library at the beginning of Lent, “and is to read the whole of it straight through.” (RB 48.15-16)  Scholars believe that this would likely be books from the Bible or perhaps writings of the earlier monastics mentioned in Chapter 73 of the Rule, like John Cassian or Basil.

Little Jenny:  (Purring loudly as she mews) How wonderful!  I can’t wait to see what Br Ricky has in store for us.

Br R:   As our resident novice scholar I will choose a book that will both challenge and enrich you spiritually, Novice Little Jenny.  In fact, each of you will receive a book that I have chosen especially for you.  (There is an excited buzz of mews and more thumbs up.)

Terri:  In these verses the bottom line is this – turn away from evil, the things we do to hurt ourselves and each other.  Instead, turn towards and do those things that will support our community and our journey with Christ.

Br R:  Thank you, Novice Terri for your research and insights.  Well done.  (Terri responds with a purr.)

Time for a Stretch Break!

Miss Sassafras, zoned out from intense learning

(Suddenly Br. Ricky notices Novice Miss Sassafras looking pretty worn out.  He recalls Benedict’s instruction to the superior of the monastery, to “arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from” RB 64.19.)

Br R:  Novices, I would like everyone to stand up and give a big stretch before we continue.  Those joining virtually, too.

(The novices slowly stand up, especially Miss Sassafras who has a bit of a struggle.  Back legs stretch out, then front legs.  The room is quiet as the novices digest all that has been mewed about the Observance of Lent.  Novice Michael James gives a little hop to get more kinks out.  As former practicing attorney in the feline world, he often needed to do this through long court sessions.  Humans – get coffee or tea.)

Signpost #3 – The More and Less of Lent

Br R:  Very good, novices.  Let’s continue with Verses 5 to 7 in Benedict’s Lenten Roadmap.  Novice Michael James, I believe that these are your verses.

Michael James:  Absolutely.  I also found a signpost.  In fact, two!  (The novices all clap their paws and meow their congratulations.  Michael James purrs, modestly nodding his  head.)

In these verses Benedict shifts to the individual.  Each of us is to take steps to wipe away the negligences that have accumulated over the year.  We take steps to be who we say we are – felines putting all our energies into seeking God.  To do this we follow the signpost I named “The More and Less of Lent.”

Benedict says each of us is to add practices over and above our regular routine, such as more private prayer.  Yet, we are to practice less with self-denial.  This can mean less food or drink.

(A few of the novices squirm at the last directive.  Some fur stands on end.  Michael James is keenly observant from years of law practice.  He is also kind.  Looking around the circle of felines, Michael James continues.)


The distinguished and humble
Novice Michael James, ESQ-F

Ah.  I sense some resistance to giving anything up.  Take heart, dear novices.  In verse 7 Benedict instructs that we are to deny ourselves only some food and drink.  (Novices relax.  The fur settles down on backs.)

The other encouraging instruction is that Benedict invites each of us to decide of our own will what we will offer.  No cookie-cutter approach imposed from above.  No one forces us to do this or that.  This is so in keeping with Benedict’s concern that individual needs and weakness be taken into account.  (For example, see 48.24-25, 34.3-4)  I personally think it is important for each of us to deny ourselves some food, drink or sleep as Benedict recommends.  These are ways that we can be less self-focused and less driven by our very feline quest for personal comfort.

I found another important way to practice “less” in Amma’s book, St. Benedict’s Toolbox that focuses on our behaviors.

“We could also reflect on our habits of speech or on our actions to determine if there is something from which we could fast during Lent: for example, mewing negatively about others, interrupting others, or fasting from grumbling.” [5]

We can ask ourselves, “What am I doing, or failing to do, that is a cause of scandal, or is an unhelpful example, or that affects my soul in such a way that I am not as much a God-bearer as I could be?” [6]


Signpost #4 – With the Joy of the Holy Spirit

(Looking around, Michael James notices downcast looks and sad faces.)

You may be wondering how you will be able to live up to this Benedictine Lenten Roadmap.  In verse 6 I see the fourth signpost.


(Novice ears perk up.  There are surprised looks all around.)

Lenten practices are offerings to God to be infused “with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). This is in keeping with monastic life, for as pawed by Br Terrence, “…all of monastic life depends on a willing and spontaneous spirit of joyful love.” [7]

Sebastian Thomas:  I’ve never thought of Lent as a joyful time.  I remember my Aunt Flossy during Lent.  Wow! Grim!

Aunt Flossy in Lent
unhappy about no cat treats

Michael James:   Yes.  It does seem contradictory that we would deny ourselves something and feel joyful about it.  (The novices nod in agreement.)  Benedict is so encouraging, however.  First, he reminds us that whatever we to do in Lent we offer God.  This seems obvious, but so easy to forget.  (More nods and sighs.)

But, we can be joyful because the Holy Spirit is with us, strengthening us in our chosen Lenten practices.  The joy Benedict calls for in Lent doesn’t depend on our moods, which will be many and varied, but on the Holy Spirit. [9]  We can always turn to the Holy Spirit if we fall off the Lenten wagon.  She will help us get back on the wagon so that we can, as Benedict says in verse 7, “look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”  [8]

Benedict’s Lenten Roadmap leads us on a path of joy to the ultimate joy of the liturgical year – The Resurrection.  (RB 49.7)

I close with some words by Br Furling, our noted feline scholar.

“The remarkable thing about the phrase is its insistence on joy during Lent.  In contrast with the Master (the Rule of the Master was a primary source for Benedict’s Rule), who calls for joy only after Easter (RM 53.20) Benedict thinks that it should also permeate the penitential season that leads up to Easter.  This is the equivalent of saying that for Christians there is no time of sadness.

“How can we be sad when we know that
Christ has conquered sin and death.”  [10]

(There is total silence in the chapter room except for gentle purrs and expressions of peace and hope.)

Little Jenny:  This is so wonderful.  I can offer to God what I do and know that the Holy Spirit is with me to help me, and all of us, on this Lenten Road.  (She sighs deeply.)  We are lucky to be following Christ using The Rule of St. Benedict.  I think St. Benedict was very close to the Holy Spirit.

(All the novices mew, purr or wave a front paw in agreement with Little Jenny.  Br. Ricky is purring loudly.)

Br. Ricky:  What a blessed class.  Thank you, novices for your attention, and thank you Novices William, Terri and Michael James for your research and insights.

Deciding on a Lenten Practice (or two…or three?)

You have learned about Chapter 49 and are now ready to decide on a Lenten practice.  Use the four signposts to guide your decision.

Lent from the Heart


The More or Less of Lent

With the Joy of the Holy Spirit

When you’ve made a decision on what you would like to do, please come and see me.  As Benedict explains in verses 8 – 10 of the chapter on Lent,  I need to pray with you and bless what you would like to do.  Or I can make a suggestion of a practice that I think might serve you better.  Okay?

Novice William.  Is he thinking he doesn’t need a Lenten discipline?

(The novices mew in understanding, except for Novice William, who seems a bit self-focused.  Br. Ricky paws a note in his notebook to set up an appointment with Novice William to see how he might help him recognize pride and vainglory.)

(A bell is heard in the distance, calling the community to prayer)

Br. Ricky:  (Looking around the circle, smiling.  Purring, he mews from the Rule.)

”On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monastic will immediately set aside what he or she has in hand and go with utmost speed, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity.  Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”  (RB 43.1-3)

(The novices mew in understanding and “with gravity” follow Br Ricky to the chapel for the Divine Office.)

Novices Miss Sassafras and Wiliam lead the way to the chapel

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[1] Terrence G. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996), 403.

[2] Mark A. Scott, OCSO, At Home With Saint Benedict: Monastery Talks (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011), 288.

[3] David Barry, OSB, trans., Commentary on the Rule of Saint Benedict – Smaragdus of Saint-Miheil (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 2007), 439.

[4] Scott, At Home, 289.

[5] Jane Tomaine,  St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, 10th anniv. rev. ed. (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2015), 172.

[6] Scott, At Home, 289.

[7] Terrence G. Kardong, Benedict’s Rule, 405.

[8] Ibid., 409.

[9] Ibid., 408.

[10] Ibid., 406.

© February, 2023 Jane Tomaine

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