On the First Sunday in Lent, I gave and educational message about having a rule of life. Notes are below.
Rule (regula) is the pattern, model, or example by which
we wish to intentionally shape our spiritual lives, particularly our prayer lives.
In his book about spiritual growth and maturity, titled Christian Proficiency,
Thornton explains: “Rule is a help and not a hindrance,
something liberating not restrictive, expansive not burdensome,
in accord with the freedom of the Christian spirit
and absolutely opposed to ‘legalism.’ It is always a means to an end, and never an end in itself,
and its content is only ascetical theology.”
Thornton makes a few observations about Rule that flow out of this understanding:
1. Rule is “embraced,” not “promised” or “vowed.”
He tells us it would be Pharisaical, legalistic, and quite unChristian
to solemnly promise or vow to “keep” this kind of “rule.”
Remember: it’s not about a list of rules; it’s a plan for fruitful living.
“A Christian regular is one who chooses to undertake his common obligations and duties,
and to develop his personal spirituality, by acknowledging, accepting,
or ‘embracing’ some total scheme, system, pattern or ‘rule’ of prayer."
2. Rule is wholly opposed to legalism.
As Thornton would say, rule is always a means to an end, never the end itself.
A legalistic approach would turn it around the opposite way.
Legalism is totally concerned with the letter of the law, not the spirit.
Rule is totally concerned with the spirit
and only uses tools like the letter of the law to foster the spirit.
3. Rule is neither artificial, nor a burden, but the principle of civilized life.
Rule of Life is about being a part of Christian culture and civilization
which is built around three great elements of the Christian spiritual life:
1. The sacrifice of Christ in the Mass;
2. The Office, which is the prayer of Christ to the Father
through his mystical Body, the Church;
and 3. Our own personal, private prayers and devotions.
As Thornton put it: “So dare we think of the Eucharist as the living heart
of the Body of Christ; of the Office as its continual beat, its pulse;
and private prayer as the circulation of the blood giving life and strength
to its several members according to their need and capacity?”
Rule is about being joined to Jesus.
4. Breach of Rule is not (necessarily) a sin. Thornton calls it a fault.
We have to keep in mind what sin is—transgressing the revealed will of God,
Of put more simply, breaking God’s commandments.
Breaking my own will or my own rules is technically amoral.
It only becomes a sin if it happens to overlap with God’s laws
or the church’s laws (since God told us to obey her law).
For example, if I give up chocolate cake for Lent, and then eat some, that’s only a fault.
But if I put keeping the Sabbath in my rule, and don’t keep it, that is a sin—
not because I broke my own rule, but because I broke God’s rule.
5. Rule is, and must always remain, variable.
It should fit the person and the time. Life changes, people change,
so it only makes sense that rule of life should change along with it.
It can be relaxed, strengthened, modified, or varied.
As we said, most people have a special rule just for Lent.
Your normal rule should be reexamined from time to time to see if it “fits.”
It ought to fit and it should be something the soul should “grow into.”
Ideally, your rule should become totally second-nature.