p/c: Peter Sweden
I have always found my spirituality in the Jesuit and Franciscan traditions, maybe also in the Carmelite traditions, too. Personally, I have always found Benedictine spirituality a bit boring when compared to, say, the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi or the transports of St. Teresa of Avila or St. Peter Claver nursing to life mostly-dead African slaves sliding off boats onto the docks of Cartegena so he can evangelize and eventually baptize them.
But as I look at a modern world that spends more time looking at a screen than the sky, listening to YouTube more than family members, laughing at Netflix characters more than with friends, a world of insomnia and floating schedules with no more deadlines, I realize we need to take another look at the Benedictine spirituality of schedules and time to return to God. This blog post is going to assert something very different from the book The Benedict Option. Although I enjoyed that book a lot, this blog post is a totally different topic.
Having stayed at Clear Creek traditional Benedictine monastery in Oklahoma a few times, and now being on the old Divine Office and old calendar for a few years, I am starting to realize the old-school way of fasting and liturgy in the Catholic Church gelled entirely with the seasons, the months, the weeks and even the days. (Keep in mind as you read this blog that I was kind of a granola-esque well-kempt hippy with a guitar in high-school, but no one has accused me of being a nature-based hippy in my 12 years of priesthood.)
When I write above that the old-school way of fasting and liturgy in the Catholic Church gelled entirely with the seasons, the months, the weeks… what I mean is that before “the changes” moved the Mass to a catechesis-based A, B, C cycle of readings, the old-calendar and traditional Catholic liturgy was entirely based on a monastic schedule that was based on the seasons, especially as found in the northern hemisphere. A single-year cycle in the Traditional Latin Mass was not just for monks, but for families to feel the cold of night when Christ was born all the way until the new-life that comes at Easter as the sun comes out again.
As a traditionalist, I now believe Jesus was literally born on the 25th of December, one week before the threshold of BC bled into AD. That means that the darkest week of the year saw the birth of the light of Christ in Bethlehem. Septuagesima Sunday starts to dial down food, drink, fun, conversations and addictions. Lent starts and intense fasting drops the resting body temperature gradually. But every week the body gets colder, the weather mercifully gets warmer during every week of Lent. It’s almost like this interplay of body temperature and outside temperature was perfectly programmed for Lent.
Come Paschaltide, Christ is Risen! The traditionalist has learned: Things Come to Life in Death… All of nature is reproducing at this point. The birds are chirping and new animal families are seen, almost to welcome the Risen Christ. Even the trees are budding the same flowers that will be on our altars. Many traditionalists have chosen “to die to oneself” in Lent with real fasting, but by the time Easter Sunday arrives, our silence turns into joy. The fasting turns into feasting. But on the new calendar, little of this is true: One speaks just as much in Easter-week as in Holy Week. One eats nearly as much in Lent as during any week of Paschaltide. (Yes, 3 plates of a Fish Fry on Friday at your local parish is just as much food as you’ll eat during the second Thursday of Easter, even if that 2lbs of fish is replaced by 2 lbs of meat.)
This reduction of integration of the ascetical life with the seasons of nature is not the fault of modern Catholics. So, please keep in mind that this isn’t a blog post to say “Trad Catholics fast better than novus ordo Catholics.” If it were, I would be doing nothing but repeating the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men… I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”—Lk 18:11-12 Rather, my point is simply to say that changing the rules of fasting and changing the calendar and the liturgy has pulled us not only from the cycles heaven, but even pulled us from the cycles of earth. Saints and Popes who made these rules seemed to know that these rules were made not only for our souls, but even our bodies. (Yes, intermittent fasting is now seen as beneficial even by many atheists.)
But the old calendar (with one set of readings all year) showed the Medieval Catholic (especially the monk, but also the layman) that things came to life in death in the cycles of the supernatural Divine Liturgy reflecting the life and death of the natural liturgy of the plants and animals. Everything was perfect in the old calendar. Everything was nearly perfect in the old rules of fasting. It had brought traditional Catholics into union not only with God, but even with nature and each-other.
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