Abbot Benedict presided at Mass for Ash Wednesday. At Mass we prayed in the Opening Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Each year, in preparation for Lent, each monk of Conception Abbey meets with the Abbot to submit his “bona opera” (good works). The bona opera is a list of usually three practices that the monk has prayerfully decided to do for Lent. Normally these works correspond to the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
The bona opera is written or typed on a piece of paper and submitted to the Abbot requesting his blessing. Each monk has a meeting time as an opportunity to speak with the Abbot and share any ideas or concerns.
I have found that it is most helpful to have my Lenten good works written down, because it is more concrete and tangible. Posting it somewhere in my room where I will see it (and not others) is helpful for holding oneself accountable to the practices throughout the 40 days.
Many people think primarily in terms of giving something up, but sometimes it can be more effective to take something on. What practices will help me grow closer to God during these 40 days of renewal? Where have I become complacent or comfortable or attached to that which is NOT God or directing me to God? How can I renew some of my current practices with greater fervor and devotion?
In his Ash Wednesday Conference to the monks, Abbot Benedict concluded with these words of wisdom:
In the end, Lent, like monastic life is about our cooperation with God’s grace. We discipline our bodies so that our spirit might be more open to hearing God’s word and responding to God’s grace. But the real work of Lent is God’s work: namely joining us to his Son’s death that we might also be joined to him in his resurrection.
Lent, like monastic life, is all about Easter and its characteristic is joy and spiritual longing. In fact, the only two occurrences of the word, “joy,” in the Rule are found in Chapter 49 on Lent. To enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ more deeply will always create in us the deepest joy and hope available to human beings.