February 2016

A Light Heart

The season of Lent begins on what is called Ash Wednesday. The date of Ash Wednesday depends on the date of Easter, which depends on the first full moon after the spring equinox. So to find the date of Ash Wednesday each year, you start with the date of Easter Sunday, back up six weeks (that gives you the first Sunday of Lent), and then back up four more days: Ash Wednesday is the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent. Or, look at a calendar. Usually Ash Wednesday is in February and the six weeks of Lent coincide, in the northern hemisphere, with the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The word lent in fact means spring, and so while Lent is marked by a certain austerity in lifestyle—fasting and so forth—the underlying feeling of Lent is hope, new life, coming out of darkness into the light. Monks already live what most people would call an austere lifestyle. Saint Benedict in his Rule says that the entire life of a monk should have a Lenten quality about it. During the 40 days of Lent, though, there’s a slight ratchetting up of things like fasting, prayer, silence, and refraining from distractions like reading the newspaper and internet browsing. Some people might think monks are masochists and like to punish themselves. In fact, there might be some monks who understand their life as a kind of self-punishment. But really, this life of simplicity and mild austerity is an avenue to freedom. Freedom from what? Freedomfrom your compulsions, freedom from identifying yourself with what you do or what you have, freedom from harsh judgment of others. Or, looked at another way, freedom to serve and to love, freedom to enter the light with a light step and a light heart.

Fr. Mark

Film

Saint Vincent, Theodore Melfi, 2014.

Bill Murray is Vincent McKenna—the eponymous, hard-luck curmudgeon at the center of Theodore Melfi’s feature directorial debut, St. Vincent. Murray is a cantankerous Vietnam War vet, about as unlikely a candidate for a halo as they come. Vincent drinks too much, smokes, gambles, curses like a sailor and frequents the sexual services of a very pregnant Russian stripper, Daka, played by Naomi Watts. He is not the sort likely to roll out the welcome mat when a single mom, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), shows up next door with her timid 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher) and a carload of emotional baggage. Deep in debt, Vincent sells himself as a babysitter to Oliver and Vincent and Oliver bond as Vincent shows the boy the ropes, including how to mix it up with schoolyard bullies and play the ponies, while dispensing sardonic advice. In return, Oliver chooses Vincent when his teacher at the parochial school he attends assigns him to write an essay about “saints among us.” Much like Vincent himself, the movie has a tender heart under its gruff veneer; it is a feel-good film with an edge, sentimental without being schmaltzy. The film hinges on Murray, who should merit Oscar consideration. He plays ennui like a concert pianist, and manages to play Vincent as unpleasant but not unsympathetic or without redeeming qualities. In a sense, he embodies Robert Louis Stevenson’s contention that “a saint is a sinner who keeps trying.” Melfi challenges viewers to look through Oliver’s lens of charity and see Vincent’s true value, flawed though he is. In doing so, the film earnestly suggests that even the most seemingly vice-riddled soul has the potential for virtue. It was St. Augustine who said, “There is no saint without a past; no sinner without a future.” It is hard to find fault with the movie’s compassionate refreshingly non-cynical messageas summed up by Oliver: “To give everything and have nothing left to give is the best life you can have.”

Author: Fr. Mark Scott

Tags: Lent, Ash Wednesday, Freedom, Saint Vincent

This simple communication is one way for me as abbot of New Melleray Abbey to communicate with the abbey’s employees and volunteers. My intention is to give our stakeholders some idea of the values and lifestyle of the monks and to share things that I have found worthwhile, thoughtful, and/or humorous. It is hoped that this sharing from the abbot will strengthen the bonds of partnership and collaboration between the monastic community and our extended community of employees and volunteers.

Fr. Mark

Abbot