In all purity of life (XLIX:3)

Morning Lenten Mass at Emmaus Abbey, Prague

CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
31 Mar. 31 July. 30 Nov.
Although the life of a monk ought at all times to have about it a Lenten character, yet since few have strength enough for this, we exhort all, at least during the days of Lent, to keep themselves in all purity of life, and to wash away, during that holy season, the negligences of other times. This we shall worthily do, if we refrain from all sin, and give ourselves to prayer with tears, to holy reading, compunction of heart and abstinence. In these days, then, let us add some thing to our wonted service; as private prayers, and abstinence from food and drink, so that every one of his own will may offer to God, with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure appointed him: withholding from his body somewhat of his food, drink and sleep, refraining from talking and mirth, and awaiting Holy Easter with the joy of spiritual longing. Let each one, however, make known to his Abbot what he offereth, and let it be done with his blessing and permission: because what is done without leave of the spiritual father shall be imputed to presumption and vain-glory, and merit no reward. Everything, therefore, is to be done with the approval of the Abbot.

Saint Benedict tells us that during Lent we are to keep ourselves in all purity of life. What is this purity of life? A certain restrictive understand of the term purity of life—puritas vitae—associates it primarily with the virtue of chastity. Purity of life includes chastity and all the related virtues, but it also refers to something deeper, and higher, and broader than chastity alone. Purity of life is what Our Lord describes in the Beatitudes: it is what characterises the poor in spirit; the meek; those who weep; those who hunger and thirst after justice; the merciful; the clean of heart; the peacemakers; and those who suffer persecution patiently for the sake of what pleases God. Purity of life has to do with secret almsgiving; with hiddenness in prayer; with the cheerful countenance of one who walks in the little way of imperceptible sacrifices offered in simplicity of heart.

Purity of life has to do with single-heartedness; and single-heartedness is the defining characteristic of the monk. The monk is the man of the Unum Necessarium, the One Thing Necessary, the man who prefers nothing to the love of Christ, which is another way of saying, the man for whom the love of Christ is everything. In order to understand what Saint Benedict means by purity of life, we have to attend well to the Mass texts and to the Benedictus and Magnificat antiphons of these three days after Ash Wednesday and of those of the First Week of Lent.

For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also. The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome. But if thy eye be evil thy whole body shall be darksome. If then the light that is in thee, be darkness: the darkness itself how great shall it be! No man can serve two masters. For either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat: and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they? And which of you by taking thought, can add to his stature one cubit? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying, What shall we eat: or what shall we drink, or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matthew 6:21-33)
Purity of life is incompatible with worry and anxiety. Purity of life belongs to the man whose primary and spontaneous recourse is to the Providence of God. As one grows in purity of life, one becomes more childlike and more abandoned to Divine Providence. God purifies a soul in proportion to that soul’s abandonment to Him.