In the Northern Hemisphere spring officially begins at 7:44 a.m. ET on Friday, March 20, 2009—the vernal equinox, or spring equinox. While it is not in fact true that on this day the hours of daylight are equal to the hours of darkness (the astronomers insist that that phenomenon always occurs slightly before the spring equinox itself), the fall and spring equinoxes are still special. For example they are the only two times during the year when the sun rises due east and sets due west. So, let me tell you why I'm talking about the spring equinox.
Benedictines celebrate two feasts of Saint Benedict (480-540): July 11 which we share with the rest of the Roman Catholic Church, and March 21, the Solemnity of the Passing of Our Father Benedict. When we celebrate the latter feast, which we will do this Saturday, I always think of the beautiful monastery of Saint Benoit sur Loire, known also as the Abbey of Fleury. Once an important stop on the pilgrimage route to Spain, it boasts many architectural and artistic treasures to be sure (you can see some of them by clicking on the link.), but my favorite has to do with the date of March 21 and the relics of Saint Benedict which are enshrined in the basement "crypt" of the medieval abbey church.
At Fleury the remains of Saint Benedict have been placed in the crypt in a big silver reliquary surrounded by a circular arcade of pillars which help support the altar in the main church above. But here's the interesting thing. The church was designed with a window in the exterior wall of the crypt which is aligned with another opening in the inner arcade in the crypt in such a way that around March 20, the first day of spring, and March 21, the feast of Benedict, the rays of the sun reach all the way into the dark center of the crypt and shine on the relics of the great patriarch.
Each March 21 I think of that ray of sunlight finding its way through to brighten the inner darkness of the church at Fleury, and I ask the Lord to send that same light into the crypt of my soul to brighten it with the light of divine truth, and warm it with rays of divine love.
I pray that the promise of the returning spring may urge each of us on our pilgrim way through Lent toward the joys of the Eternal Spring and the new life and light of Easter.